Captain jack Sparrow and other brand ambassadors of the Jolly Roger are amused. Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Anbumani Ramadoss had been pushing for the pictorial warning of a skull and bones to be on the packet of every tobacco product for a long while. Pirates of the Caribbean and beyond were appalled and had quickly sailed towards the offices of senior ministers to stop the co-option of their emblem.
The logic was if the Red Cross can get into a tizzy about its emblem being ‘misused’ by every doctor in town, there was no reason why pirates would watch meekly as the skull’n’bones turns into an effete health warning. But to oppose the 2003 bill that insisted on the pictorial warning, another tack was advised. It was External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee — an ex-pipe smoker himself — who, heading a group of ministers looking into the ‘health warning’ issue, stepped in by stating that certain sections of society would be offended by the depiction of skull and bones on beedi packs. Mr Mukherjee is smart enough to know that gathering sympathy for pirates would have always been difficult. So he claimed that Indian communities who bury their dead — Muslims and, perhaps, Christians and a few Jews too — would be upset seeing the cross and bones on packs of nicotine delivery systems.
There was some flutter about the livelihoods of a million workers in the beedi industry being affected once people shun packs with a skull and bones on them. But it was the ‘religious sentiments’ bit that made that landlubber, Dr Ramadoss, step down and make the pictorial warning optional, rather than mandatory. Like the way it’s still optional for the cheering pirates to give themselves up to the law and stop smoking.