[Talk]Bureaucrats, Smugglers, Peons and Preachers

Bureaucrats, Smugglers, Peons and Preachers – Regulating the Liquor Trade in Late Nineteenth Century India: Local Policy and Global Politics

By PeterHynd, IOWC PhD Student, McGill University

Thursday, 5 February 2015, 5:45 pm, Peterson Hall Rm 116 | 3460 McTavish Street | McGill University

*Reception to follow*

‘The Drink Question’ was a major political issue in Britain and throughout the British Empire during the second half of the nineteenth century. Colonial governments were often forced to shape their policies towards alcohol in response to concerns raised in Britain. In order to safeguard the revenue derived from the abkari (excise taxes) without offending domestic sensibilities, the Government of India adopted ‘maximum revenue from minimum consumption’ as their official guiding principle in regards to alcohol regulation. In execution these regulations, designed from the top down to promote state revenue without offending public opinion, often failed dramatically when faced with local idiosyncrasies and particular problems. Colonial bureaucrats in charge of the abkari, operating with limited resources, were regularly forced to modify and make local exceptions to their own rules and regulations when faced with problems beyond their ability to control. From smugglers and other criminals to religious leaders, from the weather to their own employees, abkari bureaucrats were constantly forced to adapt their policies to fit local circumstances, even if that occasionally meant violating higher principles. This talk will focus on a number of such examples, and explain how and why they are important to histories of colonial governance in late nineteenth century India.

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