The right to smoke

Anbumani Ramadoss will never give up on his crusade of forcing people to do things that they are simply not willing to do. The notification that bans smoking in “public places” is part of the same agenda. But it would be wrong to place the entire blame at his feet. The undemocratic Indian public and the framers of the Indian constitution are the guilty parties here. India is a perfect example of mob rule – what the majority demands becomes the law. The fact that the anti-smoking law will be implemented from October 2nd, Gandhi’s birthday, shows that these people are not ashamed of using Gandhi’s name in this perverse enterprise.

Gandhi, although he believed in socialism, and had his own view of ethics, stood for non-violence and his level of tolerance was astounding – something today’s Indian will neither understand nor practice-

“Gandhi is always on the progressive side of things,” India’s Socialist leader, Jai Prakash Narain, told me only a few days before the murder. “Gandhi is our mightiest force against all the most backward elements in Indian society.”

Like Marx, Gandhi hated the state and wished to eliminate it, and he told me he considered himself “a philosophical anarchist.” But he was a practical socialist in that he never opposed the state as a necessary instrument in achieving social democracy, though democracy as he understood it is certainly not to be confused with the kind of police state ruled by the Kremlin…

“Strictly speaking,” Gandhi once said, “all amassing or hoarding of wealth above and beyond one’s legitimate requirements is theft. There would be no occasion for theft, and therefore no thieves, if there were wise regulations of wealth and absolute social justice.”

He wanted social ownership of large industry combined with a co-operative agrarian economy and small industrial co-operatives such as those in China that I had told him about. But he wanted the state to take over by peaceful means, and he “would not dispossess moneyed men by force, but would invite their co-operation in the process of conversion to state ownership. There are no pariahs in society. Whether they are millionaires or paupers, the two are sores of the same disease.”

And that is why while Gandhi looks down from the walls of our courts, police stations and government buildings, injustice and the application of intolerable coercion is the standard practice, all in the name of upholding the law. There is no law greater than natural law. Any law that is based on whims and that reduces an individual to a helpless beggar is perverse. But that is how our system works – that is how democracy works.

ITC and the Indian Hotels Association have challenged the ban in the Supreme Court arguing “that the notification makes no distinction between private space and public space.” And they are right. But I am not too optimistic when it comes to the Supreme Court. It comes up with some of the strangest decisions because it is working within the confines of a self-contradictory constitution. Here is a comment a reader leaves on the Times of India website-

Is it just me or does anyone else feel that the best seats in restaurants are ‘always’ reserved for smokers? All the attention for passively engaging death to those that do not smoke. Perhaps lets just forget the candle light and breathe clean air! Ban the smoke – Just once, Ramadoss you are right! Lets ban the butts!

Its their restaurant and they have the right to allocate seats any which way they want. This person probably assumes that restaurants are some kind of public service and that they are living on people’s charity.

The answer to the argument is very simple. If you don’t want to smoke, don’t patronize restaurants that don’t practice segregation – that is the free market way of approaching things. People don’t visit non-vegetarian restaurants if they are not-interested in non-veg food, do they? But this solution will not be acceptable because it is not sadistic enough.

The perverse among us Indians (and they are in a majority) like to see the virtual blood flowing when free men are cut down using legal swords – its like watching a gladiatorial combat. That is what the ban is all about. The law is not a product of ignorance but one of pure malice. And giving those who clamor for it the benefit of the doubt is an insult to those who believe in freedom.

“Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms,” Aristotle said. India is a republic in name, an ochlocracy in practice and is merrily on its way to a despotic future. Come to think of it, the same can be said of every country in the world.

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  • nadia_nerd  On October 2, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    I agree and appreciate that someone spoke to freedom. The ability to choose is core to our nation being a free country. I think that Mr Ramadoss though his intentions are to have a clean green space should take the educative mode rather than the cudgel mode. It is my opinion that through agreeing to this ban the nation has just committed itself to slavery and dicatorship of power. Next we will probably have moral policing on the streets. How far away are we from the taliban ??

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