For quite sometime now, I have been aghast at the continuing protestations against the passage and the enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act. I know that no single law has ever found complete acceptance anywhere else in the world. There will always be those who will see things differently - either as a result of their ignorance or, lack of an intelligent understanding of the real issues involved or, in some cases, because of self interest.
The enactment and enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act does not cause any industrial disruption thereby causing loss of jobs and income to the people of Bhutan. And, no one may dispute that the premise and the principal behind introducing a law is because there is a need for it.
So then why is the government’s endeavor to curtail the use and consumption of a substance that can cause harm to the consumers, as well as to none consumers, being met with such organized and orchestrated resistance from the supposedly educated lot of the Bhutanese people? Is it borne out of a genuine concern for Bhutan and the Bhutanese people? Or is there something more sinister and evil at work - that which is designed to bring about the failure of a genuinely progressive and courageous piece of legislation?
I am seriously worried. In the aftermath of the awakening of a sense of trepidation provoked by the incessant propaganda assault unleashed by these faceless ravagers of the void, there is a real danger that a perfectly good and useful law may yet stand to be nullified and rendered ineffectual. The cancerous growth and spread of the malice propagated by theses doomsday soothsayers has the potential to derail a genuine attempt on the part of the government to get serious about meaningful governance. Even worst, there is now a concerted attempt to suggest that the views of this minuscule number of detractors represent the views of the mainstream Bhutanese.
Therefore, it is important to remind the government, the law makers, the judiciary and the people of Bhutan that these voices of dissent uttered from behind the cloak of anonymity in the social media of the World Wide Web do not represent the national view. The reason is simple. This negligible and insignificant number of people who are hell bent on spreading misinformation - number only a few hundred who dwell in the urban centers with internet access. The larger of the population is in the rural villages without any internet access and thus, without the means or the expertise to express their views. But that does not mean that this country can be allowed to be intimidated and coerced into submission by a minority group simply because the silent, unspeaking majority is not internet savvy.
Agreed that even the minority has the right to voice their views - irrespective of whether those views are educated or otherwise. They have that right. However, to go on and on and on, as if their views alone mattered and, in the process subject the majority of us to this barrage of bunkum has got to stop at some point. There is a limit to how much we can tolerate. There is a need for some of us to counter and oppose those who choose to attempt to scuttle a law that is well intended, necessary and RIGHT ON TRACK!
The detractors of the Act offer two primary arguments on the grounds of which they oppose the Act: (a) that it infringes on the liberty and the rights of the individual and, (b) that the law is too draconian.
LIBERTY & THE RIGHT OF THE INDIVIDUAL:
Since the advent of democracy in this country, too much has been spoken and written by too many about liberty and the right of the individual. But most seem to miss a very simple truth: that a certain amount of government control is essential, even imperative, if liberty and freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution is to be prevented from cannibalizing itself. The only way to guarantee the perpetuation of the right of the individual and liberty of the self is to ensure that those rights are not allowed to be abused. Because, when abuse happens, curtailment will follow. Thus, pre-empting abuse through legislative measures is another form of protecting the individual right and freedom.
The Tobacco Control Act does not ban the consumption of tobacco - meaning that it does not infringe on the individual right or freedom. What it does is require the users to be more responsible in the exercise of their rights and freedom. It requires the consumers of tobacco products to behave responsibly towards those who do not share their inclinations.
While every Bhutanese citizen can stake a claim to our individual right and freedom as our God-given birthright, each of us has the responsibility to ensure that in the exercise of those rights, we do not cause harm and discomfiture to others around us. With right come responsibility and when one fails to be responsible, that right becomes a hindrance and an obstacle and, thus, it can justly be restricted.
……………. To be continued