Harsh Vardhan, the new health minister for India’s BJP-led government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has wasted little time making waves in the media, with reports calling attention to comments he's made in the last month about sex education and the use of condoms to contain the spread of HIV and AIDS.
His recent adoption of an educational platform that suggests banning “so-called ‘sex education’ ” has been a particular flashpoint, prompting heated debate and eliciting the mockery of a comedic viral video.
Vardhan quickly attempted to clarify his position in a statement, saying that he was only opposed to the current sex-ed program.
“Crudity and graphic representation of culturally objectionable symbols as manifested in the UPA’s so-called sex education programme cannot be called sex education,” the statement read.
He later proposed replacing the program with one that heightens awareness of the dangers of teen pregnancy.
“I have spoken out against so-called sex education without pedagogy on this burning issue and would like it to be replaced by a format which makes people aware about child pregnancy and associated evils,” Vardhan said.
Notwithstanding his adjustments, members of the East India Comedy troupe took their views to YouTube with a video titled “Sex Education in India,” which mocks the fact that discussing any activity between the sheets remains a bit of a taboo.
With more than 1 million views,the video features a class of students sitting through a government sanctioned sex-ed course. A teacher discusses cultural values, noting that while babies are a gift there’s a “return policy” for girls. The word “sex” is avoided, scandalous body parts are given the black-bar treatment, and the students use 3D glasses to watch a cautionary video in which a fellow dies from syphilis of the lung after engaging in premarital sex.
“Sex education in India hardly exists,” Sapan Verma, the film’s director, told the New Indian Express. “There are very, very few people who actually have access to sex education in this country. Suggesting a ban on it is ridiculous. We feel very strongly on this subject, and I think that if people do not get proper education on this subject, they will learn from elsewhere.”
Vardhan’s sex-ed comments were not the first to spark controversy for the politician. Inan interviewwith the_New York Times_on June 23, the minister said he wanted to see AIDS prevention efforts emphasize the importance of marriage fidelity.
“The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms,” he told the paper. “This sends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexual relationship, but as long as you’re using a condom, it’s fine.”
More than 2 million people in India are infected with HIV. Unprotected sex caused as much as 85 percent of these cases, according to the National AIDS Control Organization.
Vardhan claimed that his comments had been “distorted,” and said that he has stressed the need for both condom use and discipline for the past 20 years.
“Condoms promise safe sex,” he conceded, “but the safest sex is through faithfulness.”
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