Indians have a lot of sex. A lot. If that comes as a shocker then either you skipped those parts of your Social Studies textbooks that droned about India’s population or you still believe that storks come down at night to deliver babies. Indians have a lot of sex, and not always for procreation. Thank god, not always for procreation. We have done a lot of that in the last few millenniums. Sexual activity, like in the rest of the world, starts young in India. By the time one reaches the age where pimples, peer pressure and adorable first crushes combine with board exams to drive one to pick up one’s first cigarette, sexual curiosity has already dug its roots deep.
In a scenario where one in six girls between the ages 16 and 19 in India have started to bear children, proper sex education is not only the need of the hour but a lack of which also points towards the regressive thinking of both the people and the authorities governing the people. India’s Health Ministry seems to be forever doomed, with Dr. Harsh Vardhan taking on the mantel from his predecessor of helping India’s health crisis with liberal doses of moral teachings instead of, you know, more scientific methods.
While the previous Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, showed his limited understanding of human sexuality and incapability of being good at his job by calling homosexuality “unnatural”, a “disease” and a “western import”, Vardhan is doing so by first recommending the good old Indian values as substitutes for condoms in the battle against AIDS and then suggesting to replace sex education with Yoga in schools. Because you may not have any idea about what you are supposed to be doing but baby, better be flexible while doing it.
Vardhan’s qualification as a doctor comes as a double edged sword because not only does it make his claims sound more credible to gullible sheep, but it also points to how even the most qualified amongst us may turn out to be quacks in the end. It also shows how stubborn ideological leanings become the only deciding factor for parties in power rather than learnt and common knowledge.
This emphasis on ‘Indian values’ of fidelity and abstinence aligns very well with the Hindutva politics of the ruling party that Vardhan belongs to and has been influenced by since his childhood RSS days. This viewing of sex as something dirty is more Victorian than any ancient form of Hinduism that the Sangh daydreams about.
At a time when there is a sharp decline in new AIDS infections because of the stress on safe sex by the earlier Government, this puritan advocacy of ‘no sex’ will only derail the downward graph. Because people have sex. Even teenagers do. No amount of Yoga will make them immune against STDs and accidental pregnancies. Maybe then to answer their confusion over their changing bodies will be the saner option than to make them feel guilty over their emerging sexuality. Proper sex education can get more results than any moral lessons and it has been noted that places with good systems of imparting sex-ed have lower rates of teenage pregnancies.
But facts hardly matter in a battle to affirm a made up national code of virtue. In 2006, Modi’s face used to appear on free condom packets and contraceptive pills distributed all over Gujarat. In 2014, his Health Minister brushes off condoms and sex education. That Vardhan had to recant his views in both the cases may signal towards the Modi government going for a softer image than the ideological patriarch of the Sangh, RSS, would like.
Modi has categorically kept quiet about Article 377 while his party was very vocal with its support for re-criminalisation of homosexuality. His numerous photo-ops with Nawaz Sharif show a friendlier face towards Pakistan than many had anticipated. But even then, given that the party built itself on Hindutva politics, it can’t let go off its ideological stances so easily, and in its bid to create a ‘soft Hindutva’ image, as coined by Subramanian Swamy, it is finding the middle ground slippery.
De-criminalisation of homosexuality and the NACO’s emphasis on condom usage collectively brought down the number of newer cases of HIV infections. The party’s negative viewing of alternative sexuality and non-procreative sex that challenges the hegemonic, puritan Brahminical view of the society and the Health Minister’s insistence on ‘Indian teachings’ more than on empirically proven methods raise some serious questions.
With the case of HIV prevention as a representative example, the doubt that rises is that will BJP let its RSS-fed ideologies come in the way of policy building or will common sense prevail? As for Harsh Vardhan, rest assured, he will keep putting his foot in his mouth in his attempts to become Adarsh Vardhan.