Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Friday juggled with semantics as he tried to douse the media furore over his comments on he wanted sex education to be banned and the use of condoms on his personal website and a recent interview to The New York Times.
"I am against 'so called' sex education not sex education per se. Crudity, vulgarity out, values in," he clarified in a tweet that. And then, in a release from the government of India's, Dr Vardhan declared that he "comprehensively denied that I propose a ban on sex education...and whole-heartedly support pedagogy that is scientific and culturally acceptable".
It didn't help, however, as he continued to be pilloried on social media and by the opposition over the issue. "When I read his statement I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry," Alka Lamba of the Aam Aadmi Party told the media. "I have great respect for Harsh Vardhan but he seems to be behind the times," said Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, with his party member Randeep Surjewala adding, "Don't know what Harsh Vardhan means by vulgar sex education, which school teaches that?"
But Dr Vardhan is not the first or only leader in the ruling BJP with ultra-conservative views on sex and morality. During the NDA regime, several BJP members of the cabinet had announced steps in line with such a view.
As Union minister for health in the NDA government in 2003, Sushma Swaraj had made much the same points on the use of condoms in AIDS prevention and sex education. AIDS prevention campaigns should not be condom-centric, she had argued then. She had also, during her stint as information and broadcasting minister, banned condom ads on television, promoting instead a policy of ABC — abstain, be faithful and use a condom — in the fight against AIDS, much as Vardhan had advocated to the American newspaper.
The then HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi had, like Vardhan now, argued that sex education led to an "immoral society". In BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Adolescent Education Programme, introduced by the earlier UPA government in 2007, was withdrawn on the grounds that "sex education has no role in Indian society". It has also been banned in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Goa.
In 2009, a Rajya Sabha committee headed by M Venkaiah Naidu, had said 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".