Tuesday 22nd Jan 2019
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In the Madhouse of Contradictions

Cover Story

, by KHAN YASIR

We all – irrespective of caste, class, religion and gender – were yawning miserably. Sharma sir was, as usual, at his boring-best. Meanwhile, my mobile showed a low-battery signal implying that I could no longer play the game. Sharma sir, instead of discussing Judicial Review in India, was describing his heroics in some seminar which all of us knew had never taken place. Suddenly, I saw Kamal smiling. He was sitting next to me. As Sharma sir turned to the board to write down the supposed question that he supposedly asked in that seminar supposed to have taken place somewhere outside India, I elbowed Kamal and asked why he was laughing. He gave me his notebook. No, it was not a cartoon of pot-bellied Sharma sir as I expected, it was something written down as reproduced below,

‘The use of a camera or any kind of audiovisual device in this cinema hall to capture, transit or make a copy of any performance of the cinematographic film is an illegal activity and a penal offence punishable under sections 51, 62, and 63 of the Indian Copyright Act 1957 with imprisonment extending to three years and fine extending to Rs two Lakhs.’

I looked questioningly at Kamal, “What’s the joke?” Fearing to be overheard by Sharma sir, he wrote on the notebook, “This note I had copied from a pirated film (video-graphed in some cinema hall) that I watched yesterday on my laptop”. I couldn’t help smiling and appreciating the sharp wit of Kamal. But soon something stranger struck me. I thought: if this contradiction is a laughing matter then such contradictions are universal and hence our laughs infinite. We could literally spend a life laughing on these trivial contradictions that have become order of the day. What is needed is more than laughing. It is to analyse the situation, to think of solutions, and to start a movement. I looked at the cigarette packet of Kamal lying beneath the desk on which I knew ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ was written somewhere. This was the contradiction that perhaps has slipped his wits. Suddenly an allegory formed in my mind and I started writing it down.

This is an allegory of a strange house. There is a very little, cute and innocent boy in that house living with his extended family. In the storeroom of the house, among all the debris, lies one broken blackboard where it is written in bold letters: Children must be kept from toilet-cleaning liquid. Last two words were barely visible. In the same house our dear little boy sees every day his maternal aunt, dressed in a pretty red sari with a bottle of toilet-cleaner in hand, telling him in a low and affectionate voice: “Cute boys drink toilet-cleaning liquid”. Our little boy’s cousins, some elder and some of the same age, would surround him and say, “Drinking toilet-cleaning liquid is cooool...”

Even his uncle, a legendary batsman at the district level, whom the little boy loves very much utters every day, “I like the boy who drinks toilet-cleaning liquid”. Another of his uncle known for his intellectual acumen in the whole town usually argues, “Drinking diluted toilet-cleaning liquid in the right quantity not only increases one’s social and emotional quotient but also benefits one’s intelligence quotient. It is truly a symbol of status.” However, sometimes his grandpa would forgetfully utter what’s written on that obsolete blackboard in the warehouse but the whole progressive household would hush him away. Lawyer uncle would declare, “It is an individual’s right to drink toilet-cleaning liquid though he doesn’t have a right to omit on another person after drinking in excess.”

In such a strange house (or madhouse?) will it be astonishing if our cute little boy starts savouring the ominous toilet-cleaning liquid? Is it enough for the parents and well-wishers of our cute little boy to refrain individually from drinking toilet-cleaning liquid? The answer of both the questions is a resounding NO.

Truth is stranger than the fiction of my mind. We all are living in a madhouse exactly on the same patterns as allegorically described above. Hypocrisy, two-facedness and contradictions are order of the day when it comes to alcohol, intoxicating drinks, drugs, tobacco and other such poisons.

On the one hand Article 47 of our Constitution gives the following Directive Principle:

The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.

We celebrate several years like SAARC Year of Combating Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking (1989). Drug Trafficking is declared to be a priority e.g. in Non Aligned Movements’ session at Ghana (1991). We write warnings on every packet of cigarette. Our films notify in the beginning that smoking is injurious to health. We celebrate awareness campaigns and impose fines on drunken driving, etc. etc.

On the other hand we give licences and tax relaxations to the industries producing intoxicants. Our scholars like Robert Nozick argue that state has no right to legally prohibit the activities that only endanger those engaged in them such as drug use and prostitution. These are for him – victimless crimes which fall within the purview of individual right. Our films promote the cool image of a hero smoking and drinking in different styles. Our cricketers and film stars, idealised by so many youngsters, advertise for liquor with half-naked women. What is provision of the Constitution, awareness campaigns, determination of legal age, and ridiculous warnings on cigarette packets vis-à-vis this assault?

More painful is extensive debates on non-issues in this regard. Instead of banning cigarettes altogether or increasing taxes on such industries the solution is sought in writing on every packet: Smoking is injurious to health. No one seems to bother that if these are truly injurious to health then why are we selling injuries and cancers in the first place? The debate ridiculously is not on the crucial question of outlawing all such substances but on the font-size of abovementioned warning and whether an image of lung cancer should be depicted on every cigarette packet or not. The fixation of legal age of 18 for smoking and presumably 25 (I am not sure) for drinking is another of cruel jokes. Is smoking not injurious to health after 18 or drinking after 25?

But I do not blame the governments, laws and administrations. And how could I blame them when I know for sure that any such attempts to take stringent actions against these poisons and poison-industries is bound to fail. I would like to remind those who disagree of the experiment in the USA. In the beginning of the 20th century, America was shocked by the widespread alcoholism and drunkenness in the nation. Protests led by conscious citizens forced the Congress to approve of the 18th amendment to the constitution thereby forbidding the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages taking effect from 1920. This prohibition however resulted in illegal production and sale of liquor and in no way reduced the consumption of intoxicants. The legislation proved ineffective. The prohibition had to be repelled by 21st amendment in 1933.

The incident proves that mere legal prohibition is not a solution to alcoholism and intake of intoxicants not to speak of Awareness Campaigns which are much more toothless. But when we contrast this failed experiment from the drown-in-liquor society of Arabia fourteen centuries ago, we have no alternative but to be surprised. The approach in Arabia (1400 years ago) seems not much different from the USA (1920), it is:

A strategic, time-bound and step by step prohibition of liquor and intoxicants;

Encouraging people indulged in these practices to leave them through self-motivation;

Providing some of the weaker ones who have a will but not capacity to leave the intoxicants with alternatives (like vinegar) or medical aid; and

Stringent punishments on violation of prohibition.

The difference however lies in the role Islamic values and rewards/punishments of afterlife plays. And this was crucial in the success story of the Islamic Prohibition of intoxicants and failure of US government in the 20th century despite all the modern resources of law enforcement and propaganda machinery at its disposal. And this substantiates that any solution indifferent to values, religion, and concepts of afterlife is bound to fall flat... even today.

History proves the success of the Islamic approach of containment even in the gravest of alcoholic and drug-abused societies. This is the reason why Muslim societies even today, despite several shortcomings, are still least affected by these social evils throughout the world. But this is not enough. If we want our houses to be safe then we should set out to extinguish the fires in the neighbourhood. Are we ready?



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