These are confusing times for those of us who follow the daily dose of ‘news’. I do so, partly because I have the morning paper addiction of many of my generation and partly, I guess because we do need to know the world we are living in.
There is a recurring trend among our political class to make off the cuff remarks, that reflect various shades of ignorance, intolerance and prejudice. These are later revoked, shrugged off or claimed to be a ‘misquoted’. But the current trend of people within the same party refuting each other in the pubic domain, on important issues leaves me confused. Especially when this is the party that is in power. The most recent set of contradictions relate to the linkage between tobacco and cancer. This is a well established and universally accepted linkage based on sound research and data. Even in our country, policies over the last many years have been directed to decrease smoking, with increasing taxes on cigarettes and compulsory labeling on packets and in movies and TV when any character is smoking. Most of the closed spaces and even open spaces ban smoking and the anti-smoking campaign has had such an impact that even children know about the hazards.
The current issue relates to a commitment made by India, that along with many other countries, that it wound make it mandatory for the the statutory warning “Cigarette smoking in injurious to health” to occupy 85% of the package. The parliamentary committee, looking into the issue has recommended that there should be more discussion on the subject. They want to re-assess the economic impact of the decision. In fact, all forms of tobacco use (smoking, ingestion, inhalation) are harmful and in India beedi smoking is more prevalent than cigarettes. But no Government has ever taken any measure to restrict beedi sales, citing the very same reason – economic impact and loss of livelihood. Its almost as though, the health of the middle class (who are the cigarette smokers) is more important than that of the lower classes who smoke beedis!! Both the current and the earlier Health Ministers had made their strong support for anti-cigarette measures known. So, the present stand has led to speculations about the Government-tobacco industry nexus, which was also rumored to be the wheels working behind the removal of the previous Health Minister.
But it is another aspect of the Committee’s (or is it just the Chairman’s) views that is alarming, if not ridiculous!! The justification for their decision is given as “No Indian study links cigarettes to cancer” and then others from the same party call this statement ridiculous and ask us to ignore it. This maybe all staged drama, as some are suggesting, or not. But it is alarming when the lack of a “scientific temper”, prevalent in the Indian public at large, reaches the halls of our Parliament and Government. It maybe argued, that these gentlemen and women are elected from amongst the very same ‘public at large’. All I can say is that I, an ordinary citizen, am confused and groping in the dark – who to believe, is it a real difference in perception, is it staged, what is the role of the media channel and their corporate master??? I do not see any light at the end of this particular tunnel!!
There have been many other issues (which are more political) on which contradictory stands are espoused within hours of each other from within the same political alignment. And it is confusing! It has been sometime now, since I have opted out of watching any of the news channels and felt a small load off my back with that decision. But, there are the phone alerts (which I plan to switch off), various blogs you have signed on to, forwards through FB and from friends. And of course there is the morning paper – so maybe I need to work towards a sabbatical from all these sources. And then I maybe less confused…..