It Happens

Kerala Police versus Bob Marley

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A drive against youngsters smoking marijuana takes a bizarre turn




Bob Marley, the king of reggae, has risen from his grave in Jamaica to become a headache for the Kerala police. In cities across the state, the police are on a drive against the use of marijuana among youngsters and Marley suddenly finds himself the prime suspect for sending these wayward youngsters tripping on grass. The police are dutifully confiscating T-shirts, key chains, bracelets and stickers with Marley’s pictures. Some of these policemen actually believe that Marley was a gang leader of an international drug mafia headquartered in Jamaica.

“We have caught around 200 students for using ganja. Most of them had Bob Marley songs on their cellphones, and stickers of marijuana leaves on their bikes. These children are attracted to drugs by Bob Marley songs,” says a straight-faced NG Suhruth Kumar, a civil police officer who is heading the mission in Thrissur to ‘free’ teenagers of drugs. In Thrissur and Thiruvananthapuram, the police have raided shops that sell Bob Marley T-shirts, bracelets and key chains. Cases have been registered against the shopkeepers under Section 3 (1) Young Persons (Harmful Publication) Act 1956 for promoting material that is ‘harmful’ to youngsters.

“I don’t know who this guy is, but the T-shirts imprinted with his face have huge demand among teenagers,” says a street vendor in Thrissur. “I have been selling T-shirts for more than 15 years, I never knew that this man is trouble, and that selling such T-shirts is a crime.” He has closed his shop for the time-being, afraid of being booked by the police.

Music lovers and cultural activists find the police action foolish. “This is ridiculous,” says KP Sashi, a filmmaker and activist. “If the police want to fight marijuana dealers, they should do it more smartly. Chasing Bob Marley lovers in disguise in a drive against drugs is nothing short of cultural policing. These cops don’t know anything about Bob Marley; they think that he was only a guy who promoted drugs.”

Despite bitter criticism from all corners, the police have no intention of dropping their Marley-Marijuana theory.

“Bob Marley might be a good musician, but it is indeed true that the drug mafia is using him as an idol to sell their products,” says Suhruth Kumar. “When we interrogated them we understood that many of these youngsters addicted to drugs are Bob Marley fans. His song Ganja Gun has been found on the mobile phones of several of these young people.”

But how is Bob Marley to blame if people are using him as a mascot to sell drugs, ask a group of students at Fort Kochi. They are about to launch a ‘Save Bob Marley’ movement. “We have been listening to his songs for years. Here in Fort Kochi, Bob Marley music shows are organised every year. None of us is addicted to drugs. We see his music in connection with the call for freedom of the oppressed, and not with the promotion of drugs,” says Anuraj K, an engineering student who is planning to wear Bob Marley T-shirts every day in protest against the police action.

The State Youth Commission, however, is one step ahead of Kerala police in the Bob Marley hunt. It has called for a complete ban on Bob Marley T-shirts, keychains, bracelets and other accessories. “Such symbols that promote lethal drugs should be banned,” says RV Rajesh, chairman of Kerala Youth Commission. State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala has meanwhile called for a meeting of the heads of the concerned departments to discuss the matter on the basis of a report submitted by the Commission.