Forbes India – An Indian state has banned alcohol. Alcohol consumption moved to neighboring Nepal

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A shop selling bottles of Nepali alcohol, with labels that often copy designs of well-known international brands, near Maruwai, Nepal April 15, 2022. Since the Indian state of Bihar banned alcohol in 2016, a small bar and restaurant industry has sprung up just across the border in Nepal, catering to Indians of all classes looking to quench their thirst. Image: Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times

ATHE NEPAL-INDIA BORDER — As the afternoon heat gives way to a pleasant evening breeze, a palpable shift begins to take place in the makeup of the crowds flowing from India into Nepal in across an open border.

At first there are Nepalese, many of them women, returning home after a quick shopping spree for cheaper goods and groceries from the Indian side. Two women in colorful saris share the load of a heavy bag, each grabbing a handle. A man carries a fan on the back of a cycle rickshaw, its blades spinning in the wind; another pedals his bicycle with a single watermelon strapped to his back.

But as it begins to get dark, much of the crowd crossing the border is made up of men who come mostly empty-handed. Men with government jobs, shirts tucked in and shoes polished in the morning, being dropped off at the border in their vehicles. And men pedaling their bicycles with heavy legs and heavy thoughts, the tools of their daily trade hanging in a bag by the handle.

They are Indian men who cross into Nepal for a drink or two – or as much as they can squeeze in before the police whistle and roadside bars close around 9pm.

A Nepalese man drinks alcohol in a mango orchard along the border with India near Maruwai, Nepal April 15, 2022. Since the Indian state of Bihar banned alcohol in 2016 , a small industry of bars and restaurants has sprung up just across the border in Nepal, catering to Indians of all classes seeking to quench their thirst. Image: Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times

The India-Nepal border, barring moments of political tension, has been an example of how an open policy helps border residents benefit from broader economic choices. Take for example the needs of the motorbike, a preferred means of transport here: spare parts are cheaper in India; fuel is cheaper in Nepal.

The opening has been particularly welcomed by local drinkers since the Indian state of Bihar, which has a population of over 100 million and shares a border with Nepal over 400 miles long, banned alcohol in 2016. A small industry of bars and restaurants has sprung up. just across the border from the Nepalese side, catering to Indians of all classes looking to quench their thirst.

Bottles of liquor and beer at a bar and restaurant in Mahottari, Nepal, April 14, 2022. Since the Indian state of Bihar banned alcohol in 2016, a small bar and restaurant industry has seen the day just across the border in Nepal, supplying Indians of all classes seeking to quench their thirst. Image: Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times

The ban in Bihar, championed by local women, aimed to tackle endemic problems of alcoholism, domestic violence and wasted income. The penalties for being caught with alcohol were severe. A first-time offender must pay hundreds of dollars in fines or spend a month in jail; repeat offenders are sentenced to one year.

The government of state chief minister Nitish Kumar said the ban had helped reduce violence and crime, although the proximity to the border and the ease of crossing it had mitigated the effect of the law.

The ban has also given rise to protests. The court system is cluttered with liquor cases. The state loses hundreds of millions of dollars each year in liquor taxes. And booze is always available – smuggled in and sold for double or triple the price.

An Indian farmer, straddling a bench in one of the roadside bars in Nepal with two bottles of cheap grain liquor in front of him, says the chief minister wins the election because women vote for him in recognition of the prohibition of alcohol.

But the farmer, Gupta, who only shared his surname because he planned to break the law by bringing booze with him from across the border, said the policy had simply drove up the price of booze as it was still available but at two or three. three times the price.

Shops selling food and alcohol in Mahottari, Nepal, April 14, 2022. Since the Indian state of Bihar banned alcohol in 2016, a small industry of bars and restaurants has sprung up just from l across the border in Nepal, reaching out to Indians of all classes looking to quench their thirst. Image: Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times

While still on the Nepalese side of the border, he bought a third bottle to take away, wrapping it in his shawl and strapping it to the back of his bicycle. As he teetered back to Bihar, he assured anyone who could hear him that he was not drunk.

The open border area is vast, as is the diversity of the evening drinking scene that has developed in Nepal.

India’s well-to-do drive to the town of Janakpur, or to the sought-after hill areas, where the bars are air-conditioned, the booze imported, the scenes rowdy – and sometimes obnoxious.

In a hotel bar in Janakpur, as the men became drunk around the table, they mingled with cries of “ass up!” addressing servers by derogatory names as they ordered the next round. In another hotel, the discomfort of being seen drinking in Bihar still seemed to grip two men who had come to lunch by car: they were pouring their beers into mugs hidden discreetly under the table.

Umesh Yadav, a Nepalese university professor from the border town of Jaleshwar, said the economic opportunity of an open border far outweighs the small problems that come with an increase in drunken shoppers.

“When they drink there are obviously problems sometimes,” he said. “But the police are still there.”

Mahottari’s border point is a sort of equalizer. All manner of crowds mingle at the dozen or so simple shacks that double as bars.

“We used to sell education, now we sell alcohol,” said with a smile Kundan Mehta, who had run a bookstore and stationery store in Bihar before opening the Navrang Hotel on the Nepalese side there. about five years old. “I tell them, ‘Enough studying, my son, go have a drink now.'”

Ankit, 22, who works for a local bank about an hour from the border, endured a long week of working on schedule to complete hundreds of loan collections. He had taken a bus to the border directly from work, to have the local specialty of fried fish. Ankit, who spoke on the condition that his surname not be used because he was going to smuggle alcohol into India, mixed beer with a bottle of local liquor.

“It helps me release some of the stress,” he said.

As Ankit settled his bill, he bought two small bottles to take away. A Nepali woman in an orange sari was waiting at the counter, ready to earn a small fee for her next smuggling mission.

“Let’s go,” Ankit said. “I’m late, I’m going to miss the bus.”

“Roji-roti,” the Nepali woman replied with a smile. Local slang, it literally means “daily bread” and carries the connotation of a person’s livelihood.

She tucked the bottles into the waist of her saree and led the way.

Birkha Shahi, the commander of the nearby Nepalese border outpost, was understanding. He said his forces weren’t really cracking down on one- or two-bottle smuggling, but focused on large-scale smuggling.

“We get tired of grabbing them, but they don’t get tired of trying,” he said. “Roji-roti.”

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©2019 New York Times News Service

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