Book on Temperance released

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The reprint of a 1924 booklet on temperance was released to day at Pethakal House, Kannerimukku Village, Kotagiri. As Mr. Murali Rambha, S.P, Nilgiris could not come, the Dy.S.P Mr. Subramanian was the Chief Guest.

A note on Badagas and Prohibition

When the British first came to the Nilgiris in 1820 what struck them as most unusual was that the native people including Badagas, though semi-naked in the biting cold, never suffered from influenza and never knew of any intoxicant. ‘Liquors of an intoxicating quality are never distilled on the hills nor drunk by any of the castes’ noted Caption Macpherson who was the first to survey Nilgiris.

The Badagas first had a taste of beer after 1826 when some British soldiers started brewing it on the hills in a small way. However, generally locally made liquors were unknown to the Badagas till 1834. Only after breweries were established in Ooty, Kotagiri and Coonoor after 1850 that beer was freely available to the Badagas. Hard liquor was available in departmental stores in the towns.

According to researchers, opium intake and drinking habit among Badaga increased significantly in the second half of the 19th century when the Badaga society came under severe stress for three reasons.

One, British legislations on land use brought serious restrictions on grazing and farming which were the traditional occupations of the Badagas. Badaga population was also growing rapidly during this period. There was also a heavy inflow of migrant labour to work in plantations and public works.

Two, frantic efforts of the missionaries for conversion put the Badagas in a great dilemma between their own native faith and the new religion. Badagas withdrew their children from school for fear of conversion.

Third, unlike in the past the Badagas were subject to a series of natural calamities like famine, drought, epidemics (small pox, cholera, typhoid and plague) and even earthquakes.

Drinking became such a problem around 1900 that in 1905 some Badagas near Kotagiri decided that their whole community was being ruined by drinking and pledged themselves to their goddess Hette to give it up and to excommunicate everyone who refuse to give up the habit.

To control the problem the British government introduced partial prohibition in 1924 . Sale of any kind of liquors to hill tribes was prohibited except on medical certificate. However, as a government report in 1928-29 showed, prohibition only encouraged the consumption of other intoxicants like denatured spirits.
Finally, total prohibition was imposed on October 1, 1937 when the first Congress government assumed office under Rajaji in the Madras Presidency.

It was under these circumstances that this book of songs was published in 1924 written by Ananda Nambiar and published with financial assistance from K. Andi Gowder of Kannerimukku.

Today when the whole question of prohibition has come in for wide debate and when liquor has become a menace to Badaga society, we thought it fit to republish this valuable book.

Dharmalingam Venugopal

The Honorary Director of the Nilgiri Documentation Centre is Dharmalingam Venugopal, a native of Nilgiris, an Economist and an Environmental Activist and founder of Save Nilgiris Campaign and Managing Trustee of Nilgiris Documentation Centre.

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