We must call out all instances where the rule of law is being compromised to suit an agenda. Given the state of TV news, there’s a lot of damage to be undone
In 1958, Peter Yarrow wrote a song called “Puff the Magic Dragon” before he formed the popular band, Peter, Paul and Mary. The song gained widespread notoriety even years after its release because it was rumoured to be about celebrating drugs, particularly marijuana. Singapore and Hong Kong even went so far as to ban the song, fearing that it would promote drug abuse. In reality, the song (which is a classic), was included by the band in its album, Moving, as it thought it would be a good idea to include a children’s song. That assumption came easy as the song was written in 1958, when Yarrow didn’t even know what “pot” was. The lyrics are about the loss of childhood innocence and are actually inspired by an Ogden Nash poem that has nothing to do with marijuana.
On a completely unrelated note, in this past week, Rhea Chakraborty has been arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) apparently on the allegation that she procured marijuana for Sushant Singh Rajput and might have even consumed it herself. The arrest came after Ms Chakraborty was being grilled for close to eight hours for three days straight and without any contraband actually being recovered. The inspiration behind the arrests appears to be the WhatsApp messages that allegedly referred to the procurement and consumption of marijuana. Before the arrest, certain “news” channels had already declared her guilty with hashtags like #ArrestRhea, were displaying WhatsApp conversations and extrapolating conspiracy theories on national television from morning till late night as “political analysts” gave their non-expert commentary. After seeing the steep fall in standards of TV journalism over the past few years, it may be naïve for us to expect such channels to follow rigorous (or even lax) journalistic standards but it was amusing and a bit surprising to see viewers tuning in and even supporting such on-air antics. I say surprising because if Rhea Chakraborty can be arrested in the manner she has been, parents should be seriously worried about their college-going children and even themselves and should ponder on when the State and its informal agents may turn their glance on them. The charges against Rhea Chakraborty seem to (on the face of it) lack any weight and will be rightly examined by a court of law but the trial in all respects has already been played out on our television screens. The only real consequence, I suspect, will be that officials will now be able to scare individuals by just talking about this entire episode and extracting a larger bribe.
You, dear reader, might say you have nothing to fear and will, therefore, welcome scrutiny of my WhatsApp messages or that of your children. Maybe you have nothing to worry about when it comes to marijuana but are you sure that the State and these news channels cannot find something else to pin you on? Again on a completely separate note, let us talk about pornography. There is technically a ban on pornography in India. However, as per statistics, India is a world leader in the consumption of pornographic material with close to 89 per cent consuming it on their phones. If you enjoyed watching another person’s intimate texts displayed all over national television, I wonder if you would feel the same about your internet search history. What is especially interesting about the instances highlighted above is that rarely are the rulers governed by the same rules as the ruled.
Just look at the example of the Laxman Savadi and CC Patil, BJP Ministers who were caught watching porn inside the State Assembly.
In the case of drugs too, it is hardly ever the powerful who are punished. Most drug arrests are on charges of consumption of marijuana by watchmen, students and hardly ever well-connected politicians or media moguls. In a study by the think tank Vidhi, data from Mumbai revealed that though cannabis constituted just Rs 6.2 crore of the Rs 60.6 crore worth of drugs seized in Maharashtra in 2016, it accounted for 87 per cent of arrests and convictions. This means that more serious drug consumption, like that of heroin, opium and so on, easily slips through the cracks while minor marijuana charges are picked up to show better statistics. The nexus of politicians with dangerous drugs like heroin is well documented and this is with respect to not merely consumption but of widespread sale. However, all our attention has been on this 28-year-old woman for allegedly smoking pot, while a Bill to regulate the use of cannabis is pending in Parliament.
Even assuming the best of intent, that the Government is serious about drug consumption, it would do well to note that one of the primary reasons young people are pushed to drug consumption is unemployment. Statistics on employment generation are abysmal with the Mint reporting that India is witnessing its weakest hiring sentiment in 15 years. The media would do a great service reporting on this root cause rather than spending most of its time on what can only be called voyeuristic entertainment.
At its core, all of these episodes show that we as Indians have slowly but surely descended to a state where political agenda trumps rule of law. This cuts both ways. For example, though Kangana Ranaut’s statements on Mumbai being Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are ridiculous and would lead to sedition and NSA charges in a State like Uttar Pradesh (going by how Kafeel Khan was treated), she is seen as a “nationalist.” However, the demolition of a part of her office by the Bombay Municipal Corporation “smacks of mala fide” as noted by the High Court of Bombay and is another instance of how the rule of law has been treated as an inconvenience. The only way forward, in my humble opinion, is to course-correct and to call out all instances where the rule of law is being compromised to suit an agenda. Sadly though with the state of TV news as it is today, there is a lot of damage to be undone and this goal may be a long time coming. So till then, please make sure that you are not listening to “Puff the Magic Dragon” in your car stereo or in public. Who knows what may follow?
(The writer is a former IPS officer, a former MP and currently a member of AAP)