Monday, May 12, 2008

More on Ramadoss

Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr.Anbumani Ramadoss(recently awarded the prestigious Katrina Award;) replies to the avalanche of criticism he has been receiving recently.

        A very forceful reply indeed to what has been some very fierce criticism(some of which was uncalled for perhaps). I agree with quite a bit of what the minister says, including his analysis of the problems caused by alcohol, tobacco and junk food(henceforth ATJF). My problem is with the approach. Mr.Ramadoss is endorsing the "ATJF as social evil" concept and hence suggesting ideas of ban and boycott. On the other hand, the prime issue is that these 'social evils' are not evil any longer. An emerging group(don't know if it can be called class) of people see many of these 'evils' as common day-to-day utilities. Simple put ATJF has shed much of the taboo once associated with it. Along with seeing their glorification in movies as the reason for the popularity of AJTF, it is also necessary to see such depictions as effects of a particular trend in society, something that cannot be reversed by actors stopping smoking alone. Such bans and boycotts might have a very small impact but focusing on them often blinds one to the larger issue--that of the emergence of a life-style which Mr.Ramadoss's own government promotes and celebrates at every possible opportunity. It is also true that targeting that life-style and its symbols is something few governments can/will do. So much for the moral indignation in the Minister's reply.

        At a practical level, the Ministry recently banned public smoking and sales of cigarettes on the HCU campus(my alma matter). This step did(based on observation) cause a decline in the number of cigarettes smoked on campus. The reason for that--lack of availability and nothing else. It is fair enough to believe that many of those who have reduced smoking will resume it full-fledgedly once they are in a location where cigarettes are readily available. There is no long-term policy where addiction itself would be targeted instead of merely cutting down on the supply. Granted it is easier said than done, but steps like courting controversy by clashing with movie stars and then assuming a crusading guise are definitely more credible when they are part of a larger policy initiative rather than being seemingly stray, off-hand remarks.

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