When Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Health Minister of India endorsed morality as a substitute for condoms, Indian youths were embarrassed, I was embarrassed. The ignorant chatter of combating sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) with moral practices, from none other than the Health Minister of a country is a hint at an abysmal state of affairs.
India is not unaccustomed to such appraisals. Indian politicians are vocal in extending malice towards folks who deviate from their culture, overtly those who are promiscuous, freely express themselves and refuse to be dictated in the matters of clothing and lifestyle. This steadily growing number is a cause of concern for socio-cultural pundits. In desperate attempts, therefore, yoga is pitted against sex education and fidelity against condom.
While Dr Harsh Vardhan was rebuked for his callous and uncalled-for remarks on an issue of national importance, the greater questions is whether India is essentially regressive on matters of sexuality.
It is peculiar that repressing sexuality is a relatively recent phenomenon in India, sexuality was not a taboo always! The first literature on the science of sexuality, the nude artistry in Ajanta caves in South India and the erotic 9th century Hindu temples, are profound evidence in favor of sexual expression, found in both sculptures and scriptures in India. In the recent past, the widespread erotica and sensuality through cinematic representation reflected the mood of the century. The period of sexual liberation was cut-short with British occupation of India.
As authors of "Indian concepts on sexuality" put it, "Victorian values stigmatized Indian sexual liberalism. The pluralism of Hinduism, and its liberal attitudes were condemned as "barbaric" and proof of inferiority of the East." Over the period of 200 years of British regime, India broke ties with its legacy and denounced values that did not conform to modernization.
An incessant lack of ingenuity is what we observe till date. Those ideas that west discarded long ago, continue to thrive in India. The regressive British rules such as section 377 of penal code to social code of conduct, the colonial hangover is far from cured. Trouncing people on Valentine's Day, closing night clubs and bars, and chastising women who dress-up "indecently"; India transgressed a dangerous path of moral policing, restricting public discourse on sexuality.
The result of uninformed sex or contraceptive unawareness was catastrophic. While the first case of AIDS was reported in 1986, India currently has third largest population of HIV infected - 2.1 million, of which more than 85% are a result of unprotected sex.
As sexual crimes increase, STD cases aggravate and the stigma attached to virginity bolsters, one cannot so much as entertain views that tend to dampen the morale of organizations like National AIDS Control, to carry out the herculean task of educating men/women across caste, region and religion on the use contraceptives.
Social emancipation can be attained via open dialogue and discussion on issues such as STDs, child marriage, rape, abuse and more. Sexuality is indisputably an integral and central concept of Indian civilization and India shall not be governed by diktats of political parties or religious organization, when its cultural legacy speaks for itself.