Note : The edited version of this post appears on the Ultraviolet blog.
India is a populous country, and I’m pretty sure the citizens of India have something to do with it. I don’t think the storks are delivering all those babies, or that they are the gift of the Gods, a la Kunti. Thus it is quite a surprise to read about the move to squash teaching of basic sex education in schools :
“The Committee on Petitions, comprising Rajya Sabha members and headed by BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu, has recommended that “there should be no sex education in schools” since “our country’s social and cultural ethos are such that sex education has absolutely no place in it”. “
Let’s trot out that pony again – India’s glorious cultural ethos. Let’s hide behind it again. We won’t do it because it’s against our cultural ethos. Let’s all burrow our heads in the sand and ignore the problem, because it’s “against the Indian cultural ethos”.
Watch Indian TV nowadays, and if it isn’t Ekta Kapoor’s sindoor-anointed, scheming pativrata naris in backless cholis, it’s pretty young things in short-short skirts, swinging to some very suggestive lyrics. Sexy is the new buzzword. Looking pretty is not good enough – you’ve got to look sexy.
Most advertisements use women to sell their products. These are mostly pretty women, and they sell soaps, shampoos, refrigerators, hair dyes and even car tyres (Ceat tyres had an animated cartoony advertisement featuring a well-endowed woman in a low-cut blouse and shorts – and you can’t see the face of the woman). A lot of these ads feature women in little clothing, mouthing suggestive dialogues. That also apparently fits right in with “the cultural ethos of India”.
Watch the above mentioned Bollywood films, and you will realise that most filmi scripts feature women in secondary roles, playing second-fiddle to the men, and assumming subservient roles. There are also those films, which pandering to the NRI, portray foreign-bred women who are all too happy to trade-in autonomous life to smilingly melt into the arms of our handsome, chauvinistic hero. Women as depicted in such media are shown as having little independence.
Many rural women marry young, conceive early and die in child-birth. Knowledge of contraceptives is limited, and there are few people “progressive” enough to go to a doctor for such advice, leave alone uneducated women who have no agency of their own. Attitudes in the country still remain vastly chauvinistic – you’ll read about it in the newspapers (foeticide, infanticide and child marriage) and you’ll see it in the street molestation everyday. The youth remains uninformed about sexual choices and we shy away from educating them because it’s against the “cultural ethos” ?
The committee ruled that children must be given the message that sex before marriage is “immoral, unethical and unhealthy”
The young people of this country are being bombarded by suggestive messages oneway and on the other hand are denied basic sex education. Pativrata nari vs. oomph-laden, skirt-suited pretty woman – guess who wins the image war these days ? Mr. Naidu and his Committee might think pre-marital sex is “immoral”, but it’s happening anyway. And if the folk having that pre-marital sex don’t know about basic safety, it’s probably adding to the AIDS numbers, if not creating unwanted babies.
The urban youth has access to the net and other media – if you don’t give them information straight up, they will find it, and it might be pretty warped depending upon the source it’s coming from. Apart from that, what about curiosity ? If a young girl starts menstruating at the age of 11-12, you think she might be a little curious as to what’s going on ? Mr. Venkaiah Naidu might be blind, but most young folk are not.
Advocating “instinct control” and “dignity of restraint”, the committee called for a new curriculum to include material on lives and teaching of saints, spiritual leaders, freedom fighters and national heroes.
While I do think kids should have knowledge of saints, freedom fighters etc. I doubt that learning about Bhagat Singh will help the cause of abstinence any. The cultural invasion has already come. And it’s a little worrying to hear statements like the above from eminently sane people with good vision, and one assumes, satifisfactory hearing. Are they actually living in modern day India ? Do they actually not see Govinda (now an MP) cavort on screen and thrust out his pelvis (or have they missed out on all those little gems of fine Indian film-making ?) ? Do they think he is hinting at “instinct control” ?
The Committee had better realise that the day for preaching the “dignity of restraint” has come and gone. In other words, that boat sailed. Long ago. And Mr. Naidu wasn’t on it. And if at all applicable in this context, there is “dignity” only in not treating our youth as if they were pea-brained. As for restraint, Mr. Naidu might apply it to avoid placing his foot in his mouth.
The committee said chapters on Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Unani and Yoga and moral values should be made integral parts of the syllabus to enable “total development of the child”. Chapters like “Physical and Mental Development in Adolescents” and “HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases” and related topics should be removed from the curriculum and incorporated in biology books only at the 10+2 stage.
I had a friend, way back in school, who, when she had her first period at the age of 11, wept copious tears because she thought she had some deadly disease. I have friends, who now admit laughingly that they thought, once upon a time, that kissing could make you pregnant. Such was the ignorance then, and we somehow got by, gleaning information from an elder friend or cousin. It was a simpler time, the all-pervasive media wasn’t here yet.
When I was in school, some 20 years back, education on puberty and bodily changes was dealt with in the 9th standard. Much too late, I have always thought. I cannot imagine it being pushed out even further. At that time a child is already 14-15 years of age, well into the age of puberty. And whether you like it or not, they are noticing these changes. It is high time indeed for the adults to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
There is a case to be made for considering the subject essential to proper growth and a balanced viewpoint. And starting this education earlier. The more we consider this a taboo, and keep hidden this information, the more mystique is built around it. And the more alluring it gets.
It is all very well to talk about the high road, and moral values, but it is another to assume that problems will dissappear once we try to inculcate our moral values onto young folk, without first answering their pertinent questions. And as much as I am a fan of Yoga, I do think that the Committee is a tad out of touch with the youth mindset to think that it would do any good, in this respect.
Claiming that its members were highly embarrassed by “indecent” power point presentations . . .
I think these folk get embarrassed rather easily. These power-point presentations have done what Govinda and his ilk have not been able too. It amazes one that such bigoted minds can actually be required to form a committee which will decide the educational needs of many fragile and impressionable minds. As it is, sex education is considered taboo, and any curiousity of the human body (a natural enough curiousity) is considered “dirty”. And then you have adults , these “Committee” members getting embarrassed.
Ignoring sex education for young adults has done enough damage already. From a burgeoning AIDS crisis, to exponential population growth, and young folk with repressed sexualities and stunted mentalities, it is bad enough already. It should not be allowed to get any worse.