The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has banned condom advertisements during prime time TV hours (6 A.M. to 10 P.M.), citing the need to protect children from exposure to indecent materials. This precedes the incident of Confederation of All India Traders, in September, opposing a billboard condom ad featuring actress Sunny Leone, citing offence to religious sentiments.
The ban comes after the Advertising Standard Council of India, notified the government of “indecent visuals” that might promote unhealthy practice among children. The TV channels were also warned of serious repercussions if the order was not followed. The critics of the ban say that it is imprudent to ban all condom ads when there is the option to stop specific ads from airing. This will only increase the taboo already surrounding the subject, while the need of the hour is to promote a healthy discussion. This is another step towards a conservative society, with the government also mulling over doing away with sexual education at schools.
Need For More Awareness
WHO data says that India’s population will reach 1.57 billion by 2050. Contraception plays a crucial role in government Family Planning Programme and population control measures. Despite its awareness, campaigns, and availability, only 5% of Indian men use condoms, compared to 30% of European men. Conversely, the last few years saw a dip in condom usage. The main reason cited is the taboo surrounding the subject. So, what is needed is more public awareness initiatives and innovative marketing campaigns to reach as many adults as possible. With around 800 million viewers every day, primetime TV hours are a fail-proof way of public reach out. Instead, the government effectively curtails the exposure to the idea itself.
Actress Pooja Bedi, who was one of the firsts to have acted in condom ads says that it is not just about population control, but also about safe sex. With 80,000 new HIV infections per year, India contains the third highest AIDS population out of all of the countries in the world. But the National AIDS Control Programme data shows that only 16% of AIDS victims have access to condoms.
Since 1981, India has seen a 400% jump in Sexually Transmitted Infections. There are 30 to 35 million episodes of STIs every year, with adolescents and adults being the most affected. In a historically conservative society that is seeing an increase in premarital sex, we need to promote an open and healthy discourse on sex and safe sex practices. But what the ban achieves in doing so is the exact opposite of what needs to be done.
The Gender Angle
Sadly, India takes the cake for being the leading country for female sterilization in the world, despite the scientifically proven facts that state that male vasectomies are much safer than female sterilization. Every year, there are over 300,000 vasectomies compared to 5.5 million Indian women undergoing Intrauterine Contraceptive device insertions, which has many negative side effects including infections and heavy bleeding. This places most of the responsibility in the Family Planning Programme on the Indian women and away from the government.
On top of that, the data shows 25 million unintended pregnancies every year, which could have been prevented if more men were less embarrassed about using condoms, which many men say that they are, in fact. But yet again, the onus is sadly put on women to undergo abortions and their physical and psychological aftermaths. Of the 15.5 million abortions done every year, 80% are carried out at home itself under unsafe conditions and the use of drugs without counselling.
This calls for a proactive approach with the government taking a lead in promoting reproductive health, encouraging attitude change in men and sensitizing the society towards modern ideas and approaches. Instead, the government comes out with a regressive order that essentially relegates condoms, which is more about health than sex, into yet another indecent vulgarity that offends Indians’ conservative sensibilities. Policies and directives like this that are based on religious and cultural conservatism will only have society marching backwards into times where gender equality was not even a thought.