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The people of Tsirang might have tweaked a sensitive vein to ask for a nationwide dress code. The issue rings a bell – and not a pleasant one

Tsirang has decided to raise the issue in the upcoming session of the parliament. The whole nation, and even the outside world, will be waiting for the outcome.

It would probably be one of the most contentious issue the parliament has to sit upon apart from the tobacco issue.

If at all the issue is raised in the parliament, it will also be very tricky for the MPs to deliberate on. History has shown us that.

It would be more than demanding for the MPs to voice against the dress code for the fear that it could be interpreted in anyway. It could be said that the MPs don’t respect the national dress and so do not regard the national values. This fear may encourage even those MPs who don’t agree with the rule to remain silent over the issue.

It has happened in the past and is not unlikely that it may happen again. For instance, it is not private information that some MPs were vehemently against the extreme clauses in the new and now controversial Tobacco Act when it was deliberated last year in the parliament. But nobody voiced against it.

Today in hindsight, when the Tobacco Act has started putting people behind bars and lawmakers are being blamed for it, some MPs say that they didn’t vote against the ban for fear of reprisal. They also say that they voted for it because everybody else was voting for it.

To give these MPs a benefit of doubt, their hesitation has its grounds. It is always tricky to take stands on issues that define our identity, culture, religion or national sensitivities. They don’t want to go against it for the fear that it may have repercussions or for the fear that it may be interpreted wrongly. Therefore it is easier to go with the crowd.

But choosing the easy way is not always the right way. We definitely did not vote for our MPs to play safe. We look up to them to take risks. We look up to them for change and we expect them to bring the right change. It can only happen when MPs start standing up to what they think is right. We expect our MPs to transcend political realities when it comes to basic rights.

It is because of the cautious approach of our MPs who failed to stand up to the occasions that we have such a draconian Tobacco Act. Everyone thought that not supporting the Act would be translated to mean supporting the right to abuse tobacco. These are two different sides of the coin.

It is also why the parliament failed to lift the meat ban on religious days and months despite the agriculture minister having cited all scientific reasons to do so in the past. Rather, our MPs chose to ignore Science and keep the ban for the fear that the move may be interpreted as un-Buddhist and anti-religious. Religion is a sensitive issue but we also have to learn to be practical even in dealing with sensitive issues.

If this trend continues, we can expect to have several laws that infringe upon individual rights in the name of national sensitivities. In the name of religion, we can come out with a rule that all offices and shops should have an altar. In the name of culture, we can come out with a rule that we have to eat with our hands and ban the use of spoon. We can even ban the import of shoes with a rule to wear only traditional shoes, tshoglams. We have to start asking ourselves whether we are really heading in that direction.

For the same reason, if the dress code issue is raised in parliament, our MPs just cannot afford to play safe. The reason is simple – we cannot afford to repeat the 1990 episode.

Moreover, it is time for our elected leaders to realize the true intent of legislation. Broadly, it should focus on developmental issues, it should focus on maintaining law and order, it should strive for a corruption free state, it should enable quality of life, and it should focus on equality, transparency and efficiency.

Legislation should not be used like a diktat to channel basic amenities in life. It is best if it transcends what cloths we wear or what food we take. Basic rights should not be imposed upon and worse still if penalties are tagged to it.

It is indeed time to respect individual rights and the government should not be dictating it.