Soon after telling the New York Times that it would be better for anti-AID efforts in India to emphasise fidelity more than condom usage, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan finds himself at the centre of another controversy.
Dr Harsh Vardhan is under fire for views expressed on his personal website on education, which includes the following point as part of his agenda: "So-called 'sex education' to be banned. Yoga to be made compulsory." These views were published in the context of the Delhi elections 2013 when Harsh Vardhan was running as the BJP's chief minister candidate.
The multi-point document also advocates a "strong emphasis on exposing students to India's cultural traditions." His website adds, " Musical training to be encouraged along with dance and drama. Kothari Commission (1967) recommendations on patriotism, health care, social consciousness and spirituality ("four pillars") will be made part and parcel of Delhi's school education system." You can view the full 'vision' documenthere.
Times of India, adds that "Vardhan couldn't be contacted for his comments as he's in the US." However "his office said this was the minister's personal views."
Delhi BJP spokesperson Sanjay Kaul told TOI, "The issue of banning sex education in schools has not been discussed on the party forum. We have no comment to offer."
To be clear, neither Harsh Vardhan nor the current government have called for a ban on sex education in schools. But such views reflect the mindset of the Modi mantris, be it Vardhan's views or HRD Minister Smriti Irani's plan to include "ancient Hindu texts" in the curriculum. They inspire memories of the old RSS-driven NDA.
As one activist told TOI, "Children are attaining puberty at very early age these days... In such a scenario, it would be idiotic to turn a blind eye to reality. Not only should parents speak to their children about sex and the implications and responsibilities arising from it, schools too should play an active role in imparting sex education to students."
As author Ira Trivedi noted in Outlook, "My findings included reports that premarital sex in urban areas is on the rise and is currently at an estimated 75 per cent in the 18-24 age bracket." Clearly closing the proverbial door after the horse has fled isn't an effective approach to policy-making.
Faced with widespread criticism of his remarks on condom, the Union Health Minister claimed that he was wrongly represented. He told CNN-IBN, "Any experienced NGO activist knows that condoms sometimes break while being used. That is why government campaigns in India, whether through the National Aids Control Organisation or the state governments, should focus on safe sex as a holistic concept which includes highlighting the role of fidelity to single partners."
He had added, "Through misleading headlines, an impression is sought to be created that I have misgivings about the efficacy of condoms or that I have a moral problem with condoms. For the past two decades, I have been stressing the need for safe sex using a combination of condoms and discipline which is in line with the Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom (ABC) line of UNAIDS that has yielded great success in Uganda and forms part of the anti-AIDS campaigns of several countries."
And while Dr Harsh Vardhan might now say he was only stressing on the ABC concept to fight AIDS-- one that has been around for some time-- the 'cultural' tinge to his beliefs can be ignored. He had said to NYT, “The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms. This sends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexual relationship, but as long as you’re using a condom, it’s fine.”
While Dr Harsh Vardhan might deny it, his problem wasn't restricted to condoms. As his statement reveals the larger issue in his eyes is of "illicit sexual relationships" which go against "Indian culture." And his views on sex education offer confirmation of the same.
Updated Date: Jun 27, 2014 10:23:18 IST