The times they are a-changing, but India’s new Health Minister Harsh Vardhan perhaps just doesn’t realise it. Had he done so, he would not have stated blandly that “so called sex education” in schools should be banned or that the AIDS campaign should focus not on condoms but on “faithfulness”, sentiments reflecting an absurdly antediluvian mindset that bodes ill for a modern India.
It has been several decades since Bob Dylan wrote his anthem of angst but the words couldn’t ring truer. The times are not changing but have changed quite definitively. And the imperative is to adapt. The unwillingness to do so is not just foolish and obdurate but also dangerous in its implications, societal and otherwise.
Vardhan, who was on a visit to the US, issued a hasty clarification after media reports on his statement that “so called” sex education be banned and yoga be made compulsory. This was part of his vision document for Delhi schools. The all round flak and unwelcome media attention led to the minister clarifying that he was against “so called sex education and not sex education per se”. He was, he said, a medical professional who embraced rationalism and wholeheartedly embraced “pedagogy that is scientific and culturally acceptable”. Attacking the previous UPA government, he also said he was against the “crudity and graphic representation of culturally objectionable symbols” manifested in its education policy.
But the thrust of the argument remains. The fact is that the health minister, whatever be his seemingly muddled explanations, is echoing concerns that are not in keeping with the exigencies of today. Moral policing and self righteous governmental custodians will find no resonance with an Internet generation growing up in a global world and exposed to myriad ideas from societies near and far. While this is true of urban adolescents and teens, it is also true of those in villages whose world view is rapidly changing too..
There is also the unassailable reality. As activists and educationists have pointed out, we are dealing with early puberty and sexual maturity. Adolescence is a time for experimentation and curiosity and many children are sexually active in their early teens itself. Guiding them through the maze of confusion and arming them with the tools to make an informed opinion is essential.
Lessons on ‘good touch, bad touch’, contraception, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and the profound emotional and physical implications of each action must be given. No government, parent or educator can turn a blind eye to these realities. Our children need open and honest discussions, not furtive whispered talk. And by even considering a ban on sex education, Vardhan is telling us that his blinkers are on.
Also look at the fight against AIDS. With an estimated 2.4 million HIV positive people in the country, stakeholders have been painstakingly stressing the need for safe sex, contraception and condoms. In this scenario enters Vardhan who was quoted during his US trip as saying that condoms can sometimes rupture, so fidelity in marriage should be the focus area of the AIDS prevention programme. All the while stressing on Indian values.
This is so completely out of sync with the cutting edge India image that people would like the government to project to the outside world. So antiquated.