''Sulai'' - Assam' s country liquor brew - uncontrolled boot-legging is a menace

Illegal local brew Sulai, Assam.nenow.in

India' reputation as a country of  old culture with low consumption of alcohol already took a  beating more than a couple of decade  ago.   After 1970 many Indian states became wet and the subtle reason given by the states was to cut down bootlegging and illicit brewing.  Now more than half of tipplers  come under the  criteria of  hazardous drinking. 

the last drop of the brew.


Alcohol  abuse is emerging as a major public-health problem in the country. The rapid proliferation of city bars and nightclubs in the last  two decades  is  an ample proof how fast the society has changed relegating its old culture  and inhibitions about alcohol as a lifestyle choice.  As for the poor, alcohol abuse is more well pronounced among them. The men in the poor household after a day's hard work  come home with a little money because on the way lots of money is spent on liquor  and sides snacks sold by the state government.  In states like Assam there is a brew for the poor called Sulai. In this state critics  alleged  that an increase in alcohol consumption had led to increase in crimes like rape, theft and robbery. On top of it, illegal brewing of Sulai took a heavy toll on the people's health. 


However, Indians are still among the world's lowest consumers of alcohol—government statistics show only 21% of adult men and around 2% of women drink. This higher consumption persists and moves upward  in spite of the fact that  alcohol advertising is banned in the electronic and print media, however surrogate advertising is rife. Alcohol consumption in India to touch 6.5 billion liters by 2020 It is perceived to be a recession-free industry. Revenue in the alcoholic drinks market amounts to whooping US$1,371,385m in 2020. The market is expected to grow annually by 8.7% (CAGR 2020-2023). Statistics point out-  In  India liquor consumption is  more than 663 million  up 11% from 2017. Per-capita consumption of Whisky on the increase. Indians consume  about three times more than the US Nearly one in every two bottles of whiskey brought around the world is now sold in India. When worldwide booze consumption dipped in 2018, India partly drove a 7% uptick in the global whiskey markei

Country brew of Assam: 

Though country brew is produced legally across India right from Kerala to Assam with the exception of many states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, etc illicit brewing in remote areas of the states like Assam continues.  

Sulai is a form of  country liquor locally brewed in Assam and NE India and the brewing is done mostly by women with care and attention.  It is generally brewed from fermented molasses- by-product of sugar refining In the last several years buying spree of cheap and low quality liquor has become more a menace than other social problems. The illegal brew is a threat to poor people's health and it is a  cause of tremendous health hazard among the poor people, particularly those working in the tea garden areas of Lakhimpur district. Tthis district and the surrounding areas are haven for bootleggers. Bootlegging is a money spinning business 

The main source of this liquor is the Bhattis where the men mix toxic chemicals like methanol with out any fear or hesitation, as they are more focused on  making a bundle  in a short period.  The adding of methanol in sulai   makes it cheaper and stronger than the legal  liquor available in  IMFL stores. The bottle liquor is sold on the road sides near tea gardens and the sellers were women. 

In 2017, the Assam government had banned the Mahal system. by which   a  few people controlled large part of the legal, quality-controlled  Sulai market. In accordance with  new   country spirit policy only licensed manufacturers  across Assam could  produce hygienically packed sulai.  Under the policy, IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) producers are allowed to sell the local liquor for an annual license fee of Rs. 20,000.

In  March 2019  in Golaghat and Jorhat districts of Assam 168 people - mostly tea garden workers died  after consuming illicit alcohol. The scourge of Illicit Sulai - alcohol is produced under unregulated circumstances   and is often adulterated with dangerous chemicals like methanol, organo-phosphorus compounds and ethanol to save costs.

In the wake of this hooch tragedy the Assam government banned the sale and stocking of  molasses which is widely used in making Sulai.  The illegal brewer makes Sulai from molasses mixed with calcium carbide, urea and even used batteries. The 2019 hooch tragedy was mainly due to mixing of  methanol.  The crux of the problem is dereliction of duty on the part of the officials in charge of liquor production and sales.  As long as the   district excise officials and police allegedly collect regular booty from liquor makers and sellers in exchange of uninterrupted tragedy , so long this illegal trade will continue and there will be tragedy then and there. Unfortunately, the victims are hard-working poor workers of the tea-garden .

Sulai production has been around  in NE part of India since the time of the English company   and during the colonial rule the company, in 1856 made the people pay tax called a tax called  abkaree for production and sale of rectified spirit. The license holder  could not brew more than ten gallons per day.  Licensed distilleries were both private and government-owned.  Brewing of sulai without a permit was  and is against law that would invite fine illicit, and the  law  still in force in Assam.

Often dubbed  as the ''poor man's liquor'' or ''drink of the lowly classes''  Sulai  is taken raw without adding water and the side dish is Fried meat or any other curry.   It goes by the name of  tharra in north India, handia or pheni in Nepal.  In certain rural pockets, poor people are dependent on Sulai for their livelihood and and sell it to liquor stalls (sulai bhatti) and private retail units. In state’s Golaghat,  Jorhat,  Lakhimpur districts  because of   uncontrolled availability of bootleg liquor at stake is the lives of tea garden workers. 

What Al Capone can teach India about prohibition?

''The beginning of the end of the world's most famous experiment in alcohol prohibition came in a hail of bullets (in the USA)

Seven mobsters were gunned down in a Chicago garage. The executioners were thorough, raking their victims' bodies with machine-gun fire even after they had slumped to the ground.

The hit, organised by Al Capone on 14 February 1929, became known as the St Valentine's Day Massacre. It came to symbolise the mob rule that critics said had been brought about by the 1920 Volstead Act, which banned alcohol consumption across America.

The number of Indians who drink is low by international standards, only a third of the population, but they are drinking more. Statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show a rapid increase in alcohol consumption in India, up 55% between 1992 and 2012.

More worrying still is how and what they drink. "Drink to intoxication seems to the goal," said Vivek Benegal, when he launched a major study of Indian drinking habits.

That would certainly explain why Indians overwhelmingly drink hard liquor: the World Health Organization found that 93% of all alcohol consumed was in the form of spirits. ( from : 'https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37230259)