Written by Jagriti Gangopadhyay and Yash Pratap Singh
The recent comment by Dr Harsh Vardhan, in his vision document stating that “So-called ‘sex education’ to be banned, Value Education will be integrated with course content, Yoga should be made compulsory,” had created quite a stir in the media. Undoubtedly the statement calls our attention to the fact that values and yoga, implying self-control on ones instincts will lead to safe sex. Interestingly the point that needs to be highlighted is that in a country such as India, two contrasting views exist side by side. While on one hand we have ministers banning sex education in schools, we have popular media, particularly in the form of daily soaps promoting pre-marital sex and more dangerously increasing confusion in the minds of several youngsters. It is important to press the alarm if sex education is banned in schools, because the data from UNFPA, 2008 suggests that teen pregnancy in India is high with 62 pregnant teens out of every 1,000 women. In comparison, 24 British teens get pregnant before their 19th birthday while the figure is 42 in the US. Adolescents and youth in India experience several negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes such as early and closely spaced pregnancy, unsafe abortions, STI, HIV/AIDS, and sexual violence at alarming scale. One in every five woman aged 15–19 years’ experience childbearing before 17 years of age that are often closely spaced; risk of maternal mortality among adolescent mothers was twice as high as compared to mothers aged 25–39 years. Importantly, adolescents and youth comprise 31 percent of AIDS burden in India.
The mistake that the Union Health Minister made was that he assumed that in Indian schools children are being taught how to have sex and hence introducing children to vulgarity. Sex education in general is considered to be boring and monotonous in most schools, and children learn more about sex through the Internet. The need of the hour is not to ban sex education, but to make the urban youth more aware about issues such as contraception, the dangers of having contraceptive pills, early abortions and why it is important to have safe sex. It is not correct to argue that only the elite schools have sex education. Earlier this year, a report from a government school in Bangalore, where Mythri (Mythri Educational Video) an educational video about menstrual hygiene, was shown to a group of 14-year-old girls, Sini Joseph, the brain behind the video, took the opportunity to talk to the girls about sex and abuse, telling them about the dangers of premarital sex, but in a non-preachy manner. One of the teachers at the school remarked that, “These days, girls are at risk everywhere, even in their homes. We need to give them weapons to protect them. The issue is that if a government school could introduce the innovative method of teaching, then why can’t private schools adopt this practice as well?
“We parents need to do a better job of educating our adolescents about sex. The countries with low rates of teen pregnancy and low rates of STDs deal with sex more openly. It is not uncommon for adolescents to talk frankly and frequently about sex with their families and in schools. It’s ironic that these more open societies have fewer problems associated with adolescent sexual activity, because much parental resistance to sex education in the United States is predicated on the notion that it will lead to more teen sex. American parents fear that if teachers talk to teens about sex in a classroom, the information will somehow trigger their interest in it–as if teens have not heard of sex before taking a health class on it.”
DAVID WALSH, Why do they Act That Way?
What is more disturbing is the emphasis on Indian values. No matter how many times our netas during their electoral campaigns harp about a secular and liberal India, after coming to power they dream of a conservative India. According to Indian values only when a man and woman are married to each other, they can have sex because their relationship is legal on pen and paper. Others having premarital sex or extramarital affairs should be treated as individuals who have lost all their values. The most ancient text of the Hindus, the Vedas preached that polyandry and polygamy was practiced by the ruling class. Nudity in art was accepted as shown in the sculptures and paintings of Ajanta and Khajurao. The irony is that behind closed doors all sexual acts will continue and our ministers by banning sex education and preaching about values will be the epitome of goodness and saviors of this adoption of Western practices.
It is not that these statements are out of impulse; these are political slurries to catapult the right wing ideology of moral policing and threats under the pretext of Indian culture and values. The reason is that the netas have a conservative ideological agenda that they want to introduce into schools and get a captive audience of young minds etc. It is not about teaching children how to have sex (which the minister seems to be assuming) but communicating to young people a host of social and biological issues that relate to this perfectly natural bodily human function. The sarcastic cacophony associated with this is on one hand you preach about values and on other hands the elite public figures watch some porn films or maintain extra marital and multi spouse relationships in their life. As far as yoga controlling sexuality is concerned, the more important concern is that our teachers of Yoga, such as Baba Ramdev believe that homosexuality is a crime and can be controlled through Yoga. He further asserts that children are not prepared to handle sex education because they lack the maturity to do so. Well then should we wait till they grow up and then take classes on sex education?
This quote summarizes the whole debate affirming the point that an individual will perceive sex education as one wants to. Banning it in schools will not prevent children growing up to be mature adults from thinking about sex and following Indian values and practising Yoga on a regular basis.