What It’s Like Partying in Gujarat, the Indian State That’s Banned Alcohol

“There’s just one rule if you're drinking on campus: never open the door, no matter how much someone knocks. Everyone invited to the session is taught a secret knock.”
24 February 2020, 1:00am
Partying in Gujarat India's dry state
Image by Prianka Jain

This article originally appeared on VICE India.

Gujarat is known for a lot of things: oil-doused ‘diet’ snacks, people with great business sensibilities, and producing politicians who apply aforementioned business acumen to election campaigns. But ask any party-frequenting 20-something about what makes Gujarat stand out, and they’ll immediately point to how the prohibition state is a party pooper.

Alcohol has been a no-no in Gujarat ever since 1960, when the Bombay Prohibition Law came into play as a tribute to celebrate the sobriety of Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthplace lies here. On paper, anyone caught purchasing, selling or transporting liquor could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of Rs 5 lakhs, with everyone including people who create a ruckus to liquor supply hoarders attracting jail time between three to 10 years. Yet, like most other institutions in the state, jugaad has managed to make its way into whiskey, vodka and wine bottles.

Not only does the state allow for relaxation of restrictions by providing permits to foreign nationals, defence staff and non-residents, but it also allows people who need it for “medical purposes” (because apparently that’s a thing) the option of acquiring a different kind of shot, allowing those who get these health certificates anywhere from three units to five (with one unit standing for either one bottle of a branded booze or ten bottles of beer). But if none of the above works out, there’s an entire network of bootleggers willing to swing by your doorstep to drop off some dranks in a manner similar to your average dealer would.

Given that Gujarat is reportedly one of the “highest consumers of alcohol” in the country, we already know that out here the rules were made to be broken like bottles of alcohol that need to be disposed off after a night of binge-drinking. And while many young Gujarat natives have the option to escape to Rajasthan, Daman and Diu, all short drives away, to let loose, the dry state hasn’t deterred its residents from being the life of the party. But to find out just how wild things are in India’s most popular dry state, we asked a few young locals how they like to get lit.

"I got away with weed because the cops were only looking for alcohol."

Normally, my friends and I sort out our alcohol scene from a bootlegger, who will either call you to a shady lane or come to your house for a higher price. But the problem with bootleggers is that you have no choice when it comes to selecting the alcohol and can only get what is available. You also can’t make sure it is of good quality and not diluted with cheaper, less distilled substitutes. So, some people even take permits in the names of their house help, who are usually immigrants from Rajasthan. It’s also really easy to score weed, even hybrid strains, and you’ll find a lot of college clusters where students score from the dark web and then deal drugs as a side-hustle. Alcohol is a little pricier than Delhi or Madhya Pradesh but is pretty much as expensive as it would be in Maharashtra.

All parties in Gujarat are private house scenes, but they only happen at farmhouses or big houses in secluded areas. You also can’t really blast music if you want to avoid attracting attention, so it’s usually a more chill scene rather than a rager. You also have cops patrolling the streets so you either crash at the same house or stay at the party till you sober up. The craziest party I’ve been to is like a pretty normal scene in a bigger city—just people drinking, smoking, dancing, puking and passing out.

The cops are so focused on busting booze that they often overlook any other banned substances. This one time, the cops caught my friends and I smoking a strain, which leaves behind a very potent smell, in a car. Even though there was a big, strong-smelling bud of weed just sitting on the dashboard, they were only looking for alcohol, so they didn’t catch it and we got away. I have got caught with alcohol once though, when they searched my car as I was trying to sneak in a few bottles of beer from Rajasthan. I had to sit in jail for two hours and they kept threatening to call my parents. Finally, I paid them around Rs 20-30,000 (about $200-400) and they let me go, didn’t even file a chargesheet or anything. It was more of a scare tactic and my parents never found out. They did find a beer bottle though. — Dipen Patel, 22, financial analyst

"Parties in Gujarat have to go on till 3 AM only because no one can go home while the police is patrolling."

If you’re from an upper middle-class family in Gujarat, you probably have a permit. Medical ones are the easiest to get through bribes, but because I was born in the US, I have a foreign national permit for 8-10 units even though I’ve grown up in Gujarat. But of course, if you’re having a big house party, you end up getting the extra alcohol from bootleggers because all permits have limits.

I think the house party culture is a far more developed scene in Gujarat because no one wants to bother with the hassle of hosting people if they have the option to go out. In a way, it makes us feel more comfortable and close with the people we invite since there’s so much commitment involved in throwing a party here. We have some wild house parties that go on all night, and that’s not only because our happy high isn’t dying but also because cops pitch tents along barricades and patrol the roads till about 3 AM, after which you are less likely to get caught going home drunk. Also, there’s no BYOB concept in Gujarat, so usually the person hosting and paying for the alcohol shuffles. The house, however, often remains the same because you can only have house parties in specific areas because you can’t do it near the conservative parts of the state populated by Jains or Muslims.

The whole house party culture used to actually be pretty chill, but after a scandalous raid at a high-profile party in 2016, the cops have cracked down. My parents tell me stories of how parties back in the day had like 20 bouncers stationed at every entrance so people couldn’t sneak in outside alcohol, but once they entered, the booze was free-flowing. They even had bartenders, which is unheard of at any party today. I think social media plays a major factor in making the party culture so hushed up because it’s inevitable for people to post videos and pictures from these parties on a global network, which draws unnecessary attention.

Weed is actually low-risk compared to alcohol because of the price difference. A bottle of vodka or whiskey will cost at least Rs 2,000, but a packet of weed will only be like 200-300 bucks. When cops catch you getting drunk, it’s more of an elaborate scam of pocketing a bribe, so if you’re a big shot, they charge at least Rs 25,000 to keep your name out of the papers. But since weed is so cheap, even if you’re caught they will assume you don’t have too much money or connections and will be more lenient. It’s a class thing. — Anuj Shah, 22, lawyer

"If you’re drinking on campus, you don’t open the door no matter who knocks."

At any college in the Gandhinagar knowledge village, it’s super easy to get alcohol. The bootlegger will even come up to your college gate or the back gate and drop it off. There’s also a specific secluded lane that all of us go to to score, smoke a joint or just drink alcohol mixed in a soft drink bottle. When you’re in college in Gujarat, you don’t have the option of going to a bar or pub so you either crash at a friend’s house or just do it in your hostel room. There are times when you’ll find more than 15 people stuffed in a tiny room for two, chugging beers, smoking doobies or doing bhang, which is really common since we share a border with Rajasthan, where bhang is legal. There’s just one rule if you're drinking on campus: never open the door, no matter how much someone knocks. Everyone invited to the session is taught a secret knock, so unless we hear that, the door is never opened and we just stay quiet and ignore the knocking till the person goes away.

Personally, I prefer eating the bhang gola over alcohol because it’s such a chill trip and there’s no smell or obvious breath involved, so it’s way less risky than drinking or smoking. I sometimes even eat some bhang and then float through classes and the rest of my day. - Jyotsna Joshi, 23, student

"We sponsor the dealer’s travel and make him sneak in drugs."

It’s been a minute since I’ve done coke, but back when I was into the whole drug scene in Baroda, a bunch of us would get together and call a dealer from a neighbouring city, ask them to score cocaine, acid or hash, then fund their ticket to Gujarat, and basically pay them extra to sneak the drugs in for us. It’s just safer and this way you know the drugs you’re doing are of good quality, something you can’t ensure if you score from a dealer in Gujarat.

Back in the day, the drug scene used to be safer because cops were quite unaware about the effects of hard drugs. I’ve been to mad parties in the past where the cops have busted in and there would be joints lying everywhere, but they’ve only caught the alcohol because they didn’t know any better. Plus, you’re more in control while tripping I guess, so it’s easier to talk to the cops without slurring, an obvious sign that you are intoxicated. Of course it’s a lot stricter now and raids happen especially if important politicians or rich businessmen’s kids are involved, and it’s all about getting big payouts or political leverage against someone.

I’ve lived in Gujarat for 25 years and personally been caught about 10 times, mainly because of neighbours who’ve complained about the noise. The cops will keep you in the police van, emotionally blackmail you, make you do all the rona-dhona (crying), and then basically start negotiating based on how much you can pay up front. What sets apart at least my experience of partying in Gujarat is that when you live in a bubble of privilege, have access to money in your early 20s, freedom, and a massive house, you party a lot when you’re younger and then kind of grow out of it. However, I’ve seen the opposite in cities like Mumbai, where people start earning by their early 30s and then get into the drug scene, while our priorities have changed by that age. — Niharika Desai, 30, legal agent

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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