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No Smoking!

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Viraj Nair

“Do you know� enquired Rakesh Kumar, a local auto rickshaw driver, lighting a bidi “who’s the biggest bloody killer in the world?� I expected this to be a reference to Bluelines, as a bus had just whizzed past us. “Who?� I asked, nonetheless. “These bloody tobacco companies�, he said, blowing out a lungful of bidi-smoke. Since this is a translation, I’ve replaced all the colourful expletives he used with the word “bloody� to make this piece a little more acceptable to its reader. “Really?� I asked ironically, “then why do you smoke?� “Oh I’m just another bloody victim, Sirji. I’m just a victim of circumstance and a dangerous bloody predator.� Replied Rakesh, not quite as witty as Wilde, but still displaying the sort of profundity and insight that eludes most of my contemporaries, let alone lowly Auto-Rick drivers. “What is your excuse?� he added, a little cheekily, in my opinion. “Oh…I…same as you, bad habit, I know.� I responded, feebly. At least, the smart ass was charging me by Meter for this wonderful chat. Rakesh proceeded to reveal, in explicit and unnecessary detail, a truly awful tale of Tuberculosis, Cancer and Impotency and the suffering of his poor family, smoking a succession of bidis in the process. He claimed to have escaped the curse with just a minor cough and a slightly unpredictable erectile condition.

Well, it so happens that the noble DUSU, in association with the even nobler varsity police and government officials, is on a mission to ban smoking in educational institutions. “DUSU prepares to kick buttâ€?, quips a headline in the HT. The article that follows details DUSU’s grand plan. The law clearly states that cigarette-and-other- tobacco-product vendors are not supposed to sell their products within 100 meters of an educational institute. We all know this law is a bit of a joke though. As we struggle to name educational institutes without a paanwallah or two conveniently installed right outside their gates – and in JNU’s case, even within the Campus premises. Well, as a smoker, I wouldn’t mind walking a hundred and one meters to a paanwallah, nor would it affect me gravely if the DUSU were to succeed in its bold bid to make colleges smoke-free. However, in the North Campus this equation is a little more complicated, as a paanwallah a hundred and one meters away from one college is right opposite another. So, it is possible that persons from certain colleges may have to walk rather more than a hundred meters if this law is properly enforced. After all, with the formidable and competent powers that be – the DUSU, police varsity and government officials – fighting for this great cause, we can only have utmost faith that this law will be smoothly enforced. Their clever strategy is to fine the offenders, and repeat-offenders can even be handed a three month jail sentence. We do hope this system is as transparent as it promises to be and it does not become a smoke-screen for further exploitation.

There are a number of smokers, however, who are unhappy with DUSU’s fine proposal and feel that they must have the right to do whatever they wish. There is even a suggestion that this entire campaign is aimed at deflecting attention from other major flaws in the system. “As noble as this venture appears to be, there are more significant issues that the DUSU ought to tackle first� argues one critic of this campaign, “For example, bringing an end to hooliganism and brutal squabbles between various political factions in DU, making the campus safe for women, a crack down on drugs – to name just a few�. Some smokers feel that smoking makes college life, on the whole, a lot more bearable, and is an indispensable part of college-culture but their position is somewhat weakened by the rational and balanced outlook of the non smoker. “This is matter of health and in the 21st century, a habit as regressive as smoking should not be given freedom to grow in our educational institutes. Go ahead. Smoke your cigarettes, but in the privacy of your homes�, says one non- smoker. “Where the only damage you do is to your own body�, he adds, vindictively.

But as my Auto Rickshaw driver friend Rakesh succinctly pointed out, as long as there are companies worth billions and billions of rupees, making a shameless profit out of this business, we are not likely to be rid of this addictive habit.

Picture courtesy Archan Ghose

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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