Last week on "Kaun Banega Crorepati" TV serial, a question was asked where the participant was required to recognise the voice of a "Yuva Neta". Sounds normal till you realise that the Yuva Netas who was quoted in the options, were those people who have indulged in anti-National activities or violent mob protests. By bringing these names into the living room of a household and that too in a programme presumably based on General Knowledge, an attempt has been made to normalise such unlawful behaviour and even give credence to it.
What is the normalisation of behaviour? It is when any action is taken as a routine behaviour which every other person can or does indulge in, and it is accepted societally. A few days back, some people had discussed how if one wanted to become a Chef in any Star Hotel, one had to taste non-vegetarian food, including beef, even if one is a Hindu and a vegetarian in everyday life. What this does is that even if one wants to become a Chef preparing vegan or vegetarian delights, one has to indulge in behaviour which is against one's upbringing, just to fit into the industry. And it is taken for granted that if one wanted to enter the hotel industry, one would have to become non-vegetarian and eat beef. This unwarranted behaviour is normalised. It may be a culture shock to many, but if one wants to follow one's dreams, one has to indulge in it.
Similarly, going for parties and more so, late-night parties, indulging in drugs, sexual liaisons, physical favours, all are seen as a part of the Modeling and Film industry – the glamour world, in short. So any youngster who wishes to enter this industry has to be prepared to indulge in these behaviours as if it is normal behaviour. If one did not bow down to this, one should be prepared to struggle much more than one who was willing to indulge in these behaviours. The film "Fashion" comes to mind. Recently, because of the suspicious events surrounding Sushant Singh Rajput's death, a TV news channel interviewed Rhea Chakraborty in an attempt to cover-up the exposure of murky drug deals involving her. After this, one saw a flurry of information about how almost every actor in the film industry is indulging in drugs, and Rhea's involvement in drugs should not be highlighted. A serious attempt was being made to normalise the use of drugs by people in the glamour industry. It was being presented as recreational.
On October 10, 2020, the Bombay Times supplement of the Times of India, a leading newspaper, carried a full-page article with the headlines, "Cannabis is no more dangerous than Alcohol or Tobacco." In this page, information about other Drugs, with complete details of how much they cost and where they can be procured from, is also given. It is also mentioned how Cannabis was legal in India earlier and how people indulge in Bhaang during Holi and Maha Shivratri, as part of the Hindu culture. A lot of people who saw this did not find it abnormal because they just felt that youngsters could get this information easily on the Internet anyway. A lot of people also commented that it was correct that Bhaang was part of our culture, and actually, it should be decriminalised now by the Government. So where is the problem?
The problem lies firstly in the Heading. Everyone knows that alcohol and cigarettes are today part of the accepted lifestyle in many households. Even those who were traditionally abstaining from alcohol now show off their liquor cabinets and discuss the smoothness of the wine, whisky, scotch and the strength of the beer. College going children drink beer like it is any cold drink. It is all accepted now in society. Similarly, smoking is also accepted behaviour, even among teenagers now. When Cannabis is equated to both of these, one can understand that a subtle attempt is being made to encourage indulging in smoking of Cannabis. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that this is usually the first step to experimenting with stronger, mood and mind-altering drugs.
Those who lecture on Cannabis being good and medicinal and non-addictive and are part of our culture are forgetting one thing – even if it is part of our culture, use of Cannabis in everyday life by everyone was never encouraged. Why? If it is such a perfect herb, why in intellectual discussions or scriptures like Ramayana and Mahabharata, it is not depicted as being used frequently by the Rajas, Maharanis, Rishis or even common people? This is because A MEDICINE IS USED ONLY WHEN ONE IS ILL. Even use of bhaang in festivities is only at the end of the harsh winter months during Holi and Maha Shivratri, not during Dussehra or Ganesh Chaturti or Diwali.
Those who quote how Marijuana is now freely available in the USA for medicinal purposes need to remember that one of the excuses given for legalising this, was revenue to States through taxation on the sale of medical Marijuana. In the USA, the medical marijuana industry was worth $5.1 billion in 2017. With a projected compound annual growth rate of 11.8, medical Marijuana is to become a $13.5 billion business by 2025. In 2017, the global (legal) marijuana market was worth around $8.5 billion. The market proceeds to expand and is estimated to reach the figure of $25 billion by 2025. On average, a medical marijuana user in the USA spends $136 (approx. Rs. 9,900) on one purchase every 10 days.
These figures are from:
Normalising the use of drugs, bringing drugs into conversations on the dining table at homes, casually talking about and indulging in any drugs (including Cannabis), needs to be checked before this becomes a problem of enormous proportions. Purposely leading our youngsters onto this path should be prevented before we become a nation of wasted youngsters dependent on drugs. Addiction to drugs has become a severe problem in the West, and we do not need to bring it into our country. Normalisation of Deviant behaviour via the Media and Television has to be controlled before it is too late. Democracy and Freedom of Expression should not mean Freedom to subtly or purposefully indoctrinate the masses.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist)