Lhab Tshering has been in detention since 31st January. On that fateful day, he was caught with 64 packets of chewing tobacco (Baba khaini) at the Chunzom checkpoint. He didn’t have a receipt to prove that he possessed the khaini legally. So he was charged for smuggling tobacco under the Tobacco Control Act.
Yesterday, the Thimphu District Court, found Lhab Tshering guilty of smuggling tobacco, and sentenced him to jail for three years.
Lhab Tshering, a driver, had purchased the khaini on 26th January, while repairing his vehicle, a trailer, in Jaigaon, India. He had paid Nu 200 for the 64 packets of khaini, each of which contains 10 grams of tobacco.
In court, he argued that the tobacco was for personal consumption. And he pleaded that he was not aware of the tobacco ban, which had, in fact, been in effect for barely a month.
The Office of the Attorney General, his prosecutors, maintained that ignorance of the law is not a justifiable defense. They are right. But they went on to elaborate that the Tobacco Control Act was:
… enacted by the Parliament which is represented by the elected members of all the people in Bhutan. This is enough to state that he is part of law making process because he is also a voter who elected the member from his constituency and thus he is also represented in the parliament in the enactment of the Act.
Incredible! The OAG, in its convoluted way, seems to blame Lhab Tshering for passing the law that got him into trouble.
Okay, Lhab Tshering may have voted. (And if he did, he most probably voted for the DPT.) But he can’t be held responsible for the laws that his representatives make. That responsibility – especially for crafting laws that harass people instead of benefiting them – lies solely and squarely with his representatives in the Parliament.
Anyway, Lhab Tshering has been sent to jail. And he doesn’t know what to do. In fact, there’s almost nothing he can do.
But the question is: what can we do about it?
At the very least, we can pause and think about Lhab Tshering.
Think about Lhab Tshering, a fellow citizen. He’s being sent to jail for three whole years for possessing a mere 64 packets of khaini worth all of Nu 200.
Think about Lhab Tshering, the sole bread earner in his family. He earned Nu 7,000 a month as a driver. But since his detention, five months ago, he hasn’t received a salary. And he won’t be able to do so for the next three years.
Think about Lhab Tshering, the young husband and father. His wife is 20 years old. And his son is just two. They’ve had to leave their home in Khuruthang, and are now living with Aum Choden, Lhab Tshering’s distant relative, in Thimphu. Yangchen Lham, Lhab Tshering’s wife, has no money, so she and her son are completely dependent on Aum Choden.
Think about Lhab Tshering, Aum Passam’s only “capable” child. She lives in a bamboo shack in Patale, Tsirang, with two of her children, both teenagers. She does not own any land, and, until recently, was supported by her son, Lhab Tshering.
Think about Lhab Tshering, Tshering Lhamu’s and Phub Dorji’s older brother. Tshering is in Class 3, and Phub is in Class 5. They go to school in Khuruthang and, until recently, they lived with their brother, Phub Tshering. While undergoing trail, Phub Tshering has had to request his Aunty, Wangchuk Dema, a gardener at Ugyen Academy, to take care of Tshering Lhamu and Phub Dorji.
Think about Lhab Tshering, a young man, criminalized by the Tobacco Control Act, and ask yourself if there’s justice in that law.
Think about Lhab Tshering, your fellow citizen, and demand that his representatives in Parliament – and your own representatives – correct this injustice.