The Sunday Leader

A New Moral Force For Morality Through Politicians

by Gamini Weerakoon

A report last week of herbal decoctions, Arishta, being laced with alcohol – as much as 10 per cent – took us long years down memory lane to our Aachi-amma (granny) who took great care of her Arishta bottle taking just one sip of it after dinner. It was called dasamula arishta - extracts of ten herbal roots meant to cure, we suppose, a variety of diseases.

 

Grandmother who was nearing the Biblical span of three score and ten, declared it easing her aches and pains. Whether it had 10 per cent alcohol as the kind now said to on the shelves, we don’t know but on taking the prescribed dose she looked somewhat serene and without complaints went to bed to get up early morning fresh as a daisy – as the English say. She did not lapse into relating grandma’s tales or hitch her saree and dance around the dinner table as alcohol is wont to make people do.

What caught our attention was that the ‘authorities’ had declared that they would take stern action about this 10 per cent alcohol presumably with immediate effect. What damage could a sip of this Ayurvedic liquid do, we are unaware of. Why not leave the decoction alone if consumers find relief in it from their ailments?

 

Parliamentarian Geetha Kumarasinghe said recently that 20 million participated in the paada yathra

Moral Police Force

Not in our age and time. Today we find a doughty moral police -medicos, NGOs, religious fundamentalists – comprising medical crusaders, dharmavijaya warriors and the like rushing to pick up arms the moment they hear that lethal word ‘alcohol’. It evokes similar emotions as those of women NGOs today when they hear the word ‘rape’.

We are certainly not challenging the opinion of impeccable world medical authorities on the harmful effects of alcohol on humans although we do not accept the infallibility of medical popes – global and Sri Lankan – on some subjects, medical. We are concerned about this moral police visibly gaining strength and imposing their will on unwilling people.

This phenomenon is not altogether new. Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and American president  declared: ‘If people let the government decide what foods they eat, what medicines they take, their bodies would be in a sorry state as the souls who live under a tyranny’.

An imperceptible movement has been developing in Sri Lanka on the lines of what the American Founding Father warned against.  Fundamentalist and even ‘rationalist’, ‘scientific’ forces in conjunction with opportunist political forces are imposing their will under the cloak of religion against some of the simple and basic joys of life of ordinary people. The pall of a theocracy is moving in on Sri Lanka.

 

Why drink?

A great majority of people around the world enjoy a drink after a day’s work or on social occasions. But this right has been violated by successive Sri Lankan governments down the years by hiking prices of liquor much beyond the reach of the average citizens forcing some of them to resort to gut-rot. The established alcohol industry is not kept going because of the machinations of the advertising industry creating demands as suggested by conspiracy theorists but because the people need a drink for their relaxation as they did from the times of Gautama, Jesus or Mohammed.

Attempts at confining religions to temples, churches and mosques have proved to be a futile task and now it appears that confining doctors and their pupils to hospitals is as difficult if we are to go by noise made and demonstrations staged on the streets. They are attempting to dictate policy on alcohol consumption, education and even on international trade treaties. Morality, ethics, religions together with politics, make strange bedfellows and once in bed they are hard to separate and has the potential of becoming a formidable menace.

Religion is not only the last refuge of the scoundrels but also politicians unable to bridge their budget deficits. Medical Dharmavijaya Warriors, Crusaders and Rationalists – often with good intentions – join hands with politicians to save mankind by protecting livers through price hikes. Instead drive them into dens of moonshine.

We certainly concede that these moral and medical forces have the right to carry on their campaigns but morals should obviously be imposed through conviction and not through political skullduggery with help of governments in power. Are we coming to an age where pansil (five Buddhist precepts) be enforced through government fiat?

Statistics on alcohol production are now being cited to demonstrate the effective clout of the moral police over this evil force of alcoholism but statistics in Sri Lanka are not a good measure of anything let alone paada yathras. Parliamentarian Geetha Kumarasinghe, that timeless beauty south of the Bentara Ganga said recently that 20 million participated in the ‘historic’ paada yathra, not realizing her figure exceeded the population of Sri Lanka.

 

Ticking  meters

The medical profession, we hope, would be as vociferous and concerned with other problems as the twin menace of alcoholism and tobacco. Some areas of neglect that strike us are: Chronic Kidney Disease killing the people that feed the nation about which they don’t seem to have a clue; dengue epidemic with periodic outbreaks and a disease striking the fat cats of Lanka: Obesity. Stand outside a hamburger joint and watch the Humpty-Dumptys coming out. We have not heard of protests or warnings against these factories blowing up the nation beyond its proportions.

And last of all, the best going money-making racket in the country: Private Hospitals. One section of the Middle Class was swindled of all their savings by a high class swindler and now the remaining lot is losing the last of their savings to private hospitals because they are repelled by the filthiest toilets possible in the world at our government hospitals.

Groucho Marx compared a hospital bed to a taxi parked in a parking lot with its meter ticking. Groucho couldn’t have seen our hospital beds with their meters ticking. Taxi drivers would have become billionaires at the speed our hospital meters tick away.

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