It is nice to know that the rulers of our country, who are campaigning the principle of gross national happiness by mercilessly evicting more than one hundred thousand bona-fide Bhutanese after terrorizing, intimidating, arbitrarily arresting, torturing in jails, raping many women, and confiscating their properties and valuable documents and finally labeling them as “illegal immigrants”, have now started taking care about the health of individual, especially of one monk student, Sonam Tshering. However, such a health care became too costly for Tshering as the country’s kangaroo court convicted him and sentenced to imprisonment for three years for carrying tobacco worth about Indian Currency Rs 192. Poor Tshering, who was studying in a 400-year-old monastery, didn’t know tobacco was banned in his own country, indeed.
Our Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinely was inspired by the “tobacco act” of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, among others which are proven to be ruled by tyrannical rulers. Thus, the ban of tobacco in Bhutan reminds us that “birds of same feathers flock together” – meaning rule of one tyrant will be adapted by another.
One must agree that there are some substances which people consume on regular basis or being addicted to them due to habits do cause even more harm as tobacco for such regular or long-time users. It is also true that all people using tobacco do not develop cancer as only a few persons are prone to develop cancer after long use of tobacco or its products. Was the prosecutor sure about Tshering falling in the category of those “few”? While we talk about ban of tobacco in Bhutan, it is equally important to raise a question – were the lawmakers of our country aware that a significant number of Bhutanese also consume other substances regularly and those substances cause harm to the citizens if consumed regularly for long time at the time of adopting the Tobacco Control Act 2010?
The world community also knows that Bhutan consumes a lot of betel nut called doma, chilly, alcohol and sugar. These materials are equally or more harmful when they are compared with tobacco. While, convicting the first monk student by sending him in prison for three years, the lawmakers and prosecutors must acknowledge that facts that :
1.Chewing doma regularly for long time can cause cancer of oral cavity as much in equal percentage of chewing tobacco regularly and long time.
2.Regularly and heavy consumption of chilly not only causes irrigative gastritis enhancing ca-stomach if already started, but also enhances upper gastro-intestinal tract perforation in numbers that can claim life if timely not intervened with a surgery. These could be avoided amongst citizens if this item is banned.
3.After consuming alcohol in excess one might not only kill the self due to alcohol poisoning, but also can commit crimes of different natures. Consuming alcohol regularly and for long time causes gastritis that enhances cancer of stomach as well as it damages liver and brain to cripple citizens and shortens the life.
4.Diabetic citizens too need to be banned by law to consume sugar if the government is really serious about the health of citizens since sugar can kill such patients in a very short time.
But, will all Bhutanese take it willingly if such laws are brought in force? Are our lawmakers ready to sacrifice their domas? Thus, convicting just a monk in the name of creating tobacco-free Bhutan is not sufficient. Sending an ignorant denizen on the charge of carrying chewing tobacco has, indeed, spoken of the real purpose of gross national happiness and tobacco-free Bhutan. The logic and rationale must be accepted to all members of society, be educated or ignorant.
PM Thinely even said that all laws are not perfect, saying such laws can be amended anytime soon. However, he must be accountable for sending Tshering to jail, that also for three years, by introducing such draconian tobacco law in the country. People inside the country have been criticizing the government and lawmakers for endorsing the law. Communities outside Bhutan have raised their similar concern on Tshering’s case. Thus, immediate amendment of the tobacco law is the demand of all Bhutanese citizens. What they want now is the rational judgment on Sonam Tshering, keeping him off the iron bars to allow him to enjoy as a proud citizen of the country.
(The writer, who is a medical professional, is based in Thimphu. His original name has been changed upon his request on security grounds.)