Mumbai NGO holds press conference to discuss the importance of sex education

Jul 26, 2014, 07:05 IST | Hemal Ashar

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan who recently said sex education must be banned, comes in for some special treatment, as speakers at a Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) event stress that education is the weapon of combat in the current climate of sexual violence

The Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) had an event to launch a campaign seeking volunteers for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).

The Shakti Mills venue, where a violation shocked the city and tore its reputation of being safe for women into shreds. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
The Shakti Mills venue, where a violation shocked the city and tore its reputation of being safe for women into shreds. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The campaign intends to motivate people to volunteer as parents, teachers and young people to come forth and take up CSE as a cause. They can advocate for inclusion of CSE in schools or conduct information sessions for adolescents.

Dr Usha Krishna at the mike
Dr Usha Krishna at the mike

Doctors and counsellors can also volunteer their expertise and help FPAI. The Non Governmental Organization (NGO) held a press conference at the West End hotel (Marine Lines) on a wet Wednesday morning, where the focus was on why sex education is important.

(from l) Dr A Chhabria, Abha Singh, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal and Harish Iyer at the event. Pics/Atul Kamble(from l) Dr A Chhabria, Abha Singh, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal and Harish Iyer at the event. Pics/Atul Kamble

According to the FPAI panel, sex education was the weapon with which one could combat the increasing sexual abuse of women and children. Speakers pointed out how newspapers were rife with reports of molestations and rapes in the city, sex education was all important. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan who had made a statement recently saying sex education should be banned in schools came in for special caustic treatment from the speakers.

The audience listening to the speakers
The audience listening to the speakers

No agendas, please
First up, was gynaecologist Dr Usha Krishna who said that to become a volunteer, “One needs to have passion to work and not have a bias or agenda. There have to be no hidden agendas,” said the doc who may not be a celebrity face but scored high because of her disarming candour.

Alyque Padamsee believes in plain speaking
Alyque Padamsee believes in plain speaking

Krishna said to some laughs in the audience, “I have seen sets of volunteers who are often discussing the colour of curtains or the food going to be served at meetings. Some women who volunteer, cite excuses like: ‘I cannot come in to work if I have a paaaarty. Another stated, I cannot work when my son has exams’ and so on.”

For Krishna, it was commitment that was paramount. The doc suddenly stopped mid-sentence and said, “I have spoken about my experience with volunteerism. Perhaps I should stop now. Here, (she nodded towards the dais) are celebrity names and faces. Maybe, they should speak.”

Well-known Mumbai psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria took the mike, saying straight up that it is time the people took the fight to the Health Minister. “He is regressing with these statements about banning sex education. Statistics have proven that where there is sex education, there is less rape. Compare the rape statistics of the US (low) with that of Nigeria (high) because in the former country, there is sex education.”

Chhabria stated that sex education not be restricted to schools but be introduced at remand homes, even police stations, in fact, everywhere where there is a need for correct information. Chhabria added, “If youngsters do not have information about safe sex practices, about what is sexual abuse, they are dangerously ill-informed.

How can one not talk about sex education? Does talking about alcoholism or drugs make someone into an addict?" she asked to a smattering of applause. “In fact, I want to meet this gentleman,” she said referring to Harsh Vardhan. “I want to invite him for a debate on sex education.”

The body beautiful
Chhabria’s “gentleman” for Harsh Vardhan was one of the kinder epithets used for the Minister and his inane statement.

Next up, theatre personality Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal said straight away, “Let me put this simply, less sex education means more violence against women and children. It is generally this demographic that bears the greatest brunt of sexual violence.”

According to Kotwal sex education teaches one about the human body and to learn how to respect it. “When a country thinks that vagina is a dirty word then we do not have much further to fall,” stated Kotwal who is the producer and part of the cast of the play, ‘Vagina Monologues’.

Kotwal called on PM Narendra Modi to make campaign catchline ‘achche din aane waale hain’ come true by introducing sex education for youngsters and create an atmosphere so that “decimation and subjugation” of women does not happen. She also spoke about the abhorrent practice of “female genital mutilation,” still prevalent in some communities.

“Women have told us (the Vagina Monologues cast and crew) about the horrors they have undergone and how they fought tooth and nail to stop their daughters from undergoing the same.” In the end, Kotwal stated to some laughter, “Women members performed the play, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ in Parliament in Britain and the European Union (EU). Imagine this happening here with the likes of some politicians here, I dread to think of that,” ended the actor with a shudder.

Iyer and fire
After all that talk about vaginas, it was time for a penis. “I wish these journalists write penis and vagina in their reports,” stated activist and supporter of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights, Harish Iyer. Iyer’s message focused on the fact that contrary to perception, boys too can be abused.

He shored up his argument by talking about how he was sexually abused by an uncle when he was a child. “People think that boys and men cannot be sexually abused because the stereotype is that the male has to protect and women have to be protected.

Now, things may have changed to an extent but earlier, if a boy were to complain about somebody touching him inappropriately, he was told, “Ek jhaapad laga do” and was dismissed as flippant. Iyer stated, “My mother too, did not take my complaint seriously, as she just never thought a boy could be sexually abused.

Don’t be like that, be enlightened, be educated like my mother is now and she actually tells people, that don’t take your child’s complaints lightly, boys too can be abused.” Iyer also warned against using innuendos and different kinds of words to describe the body's sexual organs.

“It gives an impression that one has to be ashamed of them. What is there to be ashamed about?” he asked. Sex education can help puncture myths and spread correct messages. “You can't leave everything to sanskaaaar” stated Iyer sarcastically.

Another perception that Iyer blew away was that he became a homosexual because he had been abused in the past. He also stated that all the dithering about Section 377 (the section that criminalizes consensual, adult gay sex) is nothing but the country, “playing football with us.”

He added, “I am not ashamed of being called gud, hijda, chakka (the last two do not refer to homosexuals) but I have a problem when the State tries to peek in when I have sex with men.” For advocate and women’s rights activist Abha Singh, actions speak as loud or louder than words.

Singh offered her legal services, “to help FPAI representatives imparting sex education, if there are false cases slapped against them. She said that today, “Youth is watching porn, wanting to experiment, sex education can combat misinformation.” She also stated that Harsh Vardhan (by now, he had become a familiar name, so no introductions were necessary) was making a statement based on a party’s ideology.

She added that, “Once you join a party you cannot speak against the ideology, or even have to justify a wrong” and that is why, despite being asked to, she did not join any political party. Last up, was the adman Alyque Padamsee who was murmuring his appreciation about what other speakers had said. Alyque’s mood matched his fire engine red shirt, as he said as soon as he reached the mike.

“I am known as a plain speaker and I will speak my mind. First of all, I want to congratulate Health Minister Harsh Vardhan as a brilliant mind... of the 17th Century.” This was met with laughter and applause. He then said without sex education, “Youth get sex information from pornography. It debases the human spirit and leads to dangerous situations in society.”

He added that he once asked a group of persons whether they would have sex with a stranger. “There was consternation and I was told how could I ask such a question. I then said, how many will have arranged marriages and a substantial number of people put their hands up.

I said well... what’s the difference?” Alyque added that the double think and double speak in our society as well as prudish, Victorian ways were a “hangover of the bloody British Raj.” He added, “During those times, even piano legs were considered sexy because they were curved, so the British put little skirts on to them. And this is the kind of rubbishy culture that we have imported and continues today.”

Post session, the floor was thrown open for questions and the FPAI said that they aimed to expand their sex education program to more schools in the city and the country as a whole. The candour of the speakers won the day for them. As schools go into the next academic year, one hopes one can hear more students say, there’s the bell for sex education class.

About the Health Minister
Dr. Harsh Vardhan is the incumbent Minister of Health and Family Welfare in the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He represents Chandni Chowk in Delhi as a MP in the 16th Lok Sabha. Vardhan is a MLA representing Krishna Nagar in the Delhi legislative assembly since 1993.

He was also the Chief Minister candidate for the BJP in the 2013 Delhi assembly election. He generated controversy recently by stating on his website that sex-education in schools should be banned.

In his “vision” document for Delhi schools, Vardhan, himself a doctor, had said, “So-called ‘sex education’ (should) to be banned.”

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