History of AA in India – AA member’s Eye View

My first introduction to alcoholics anonymous was quite ironical. One day when the pangs of guilt were hitting me really hard I decided to call and investigate what AA was. My wife had a cutting from a newspaper that listed names of three men and one woman. Being what I was I decided to call the woman! It was a Sunday morning and with great anxiety of what I might have to face I dialed a number only to be answered by a very drunk lady. When she realized that I was a prospect and she was too drunk to handle me she started crying and repeating, “I am sorry I am a mess butt AA is very good” I consoled her saying I will definitely visit an AA meeting and smilingly kept the receiver down. It took me two more years of horrible suffering to finally land in AA for good.

Today in retrospect I feel we could never really organize the 12th step work in India not way back in 1988 and not even today in 2008. And that is what amazes me that from that first day of AA in India, the 5th of May 1957 when Harry M our founder member sobered up till 5th May1987 when the GSOINDIA was created there was very little organization. We still don’t know who were the first 100 members that sobered up, where and how they got the AA message, how did they get their literature, which were the first 10 meetings that started here and many such unanswered questions we still don’t have archives, we don’t have our founder members story on tape we don’t know who was the founder of al-anon in India and many more such don’t haves……

I think we have taken the first half of the ninth tradition too literally.

But having said this even the most agnostic member would recognize the hand of some higher power in the way AA has spread or evolved across the length and breadth of the country. With more than 16 main languages and 500 odd dialects and wide spread illiteracy this message of love and hope is alive and vibrant in more than 850 groups with approximately about 30000 sober members. Undoubtedly 18 The Twelfth Step this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the billion strong population today but with God’s grace we hope to become the next AA super power in the next decade.

Many economists have termed India as a sleeping giant and we the AA’s feel it apt because AA has barely scratched the surface and that too only in the urban India growth of AA has been concentric with certain pockets in north, south, east and west with west accounting for half the groups in the country. Mumbai has been the headquarter area accounting for 30% of the groups and sober AA population. This is where in the back lanes of south Mumbai the GSOINDIA office is situated.

I was lucky to have been an alcoholic in Mumbai because getting the message was that much simpler but thousands like me are dying every day in rural India for want of the AA message. AA in Mumbai cooperates extensively with Doctors, rehabilitation centers, Hospitals, social workers and large corporate and the trend is soon catching up in other metropolitan cities. The emerging strong AA cities in India are Goa, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Pune, Mangalore and Kolkotta. Many other states like Kerala, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have made modest beginning and are growing very fast. Nearly all the recoveries in India are male members with only a slight beginning of women recoveries a special women’s group has started in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Chandigarh. The social make up of Indian orthodoxy is slowly changing towards accepting women as also probable alcoholics. The print media has started focusing on alcoholism among ladies and the result is slow but certain.

The service is structured differently in India with 38 Inter-groups doing the local service tasks. Three state committees have been formed for the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka. The conference meets once every year to discuss on the matters of policy and finance. The general service board consists of 7 class A non alcoholic trustees and 14 class B alcoholic trustees. The GSO is managed by a general manager and three special workers. We have five committees at the delegate and trustees level for

  1. Public information
  2. Budget and Finance
  3. Conference Agenda
  4. Charter and Bylaws
  5. Literature and publication

India prints its own literature under license from AA world services Inc and is the proud publisher of the largest number of big books and pamphlets. But this is not what AA was just a few years back.

AA in the initial years spread only among the Catholics and most meetings were held in Convents. Most Hindu’s stayed away thinking this is some ploy to convert them to Christianity. This is the reason why AA spread in Catholic dominated areas like Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore and Kolkotta. Delhi on the other hand got an early start but did not catch on the way Mumbai did. Those days’ literature and meetings were available only in English and very people were conversant with it. One of the first few translations were in Marathi and that is how the fellowship started growing in the non English speaking communities. Today out of more than 200 meetings in Mumbai only a hand full are conducted in English the rest are all in Marathi. Similarly as more and more translations started along with regional language meetings, other states started growing. Today we have meetings in more than 16 languages.

The major thrust in structured service came only in the year 2000 almost 43 years after AA arrived in India. The general Manager along with a staff member from GSONY came on an official visit to attend our conference and introduced the committee system. The fellowship is now coming of age with many young and vibrant new members.

Pushan V. Thane

The above sharing was first published in the “Twelth Step Magazine” Feb-Mar ‘08 issue.

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