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India needs to start talking about sex

Maybe the muck-raking politicians have got something right

India needs to start talking about sex
Ivan Fernandes, Hyderabad

May 8, 2014

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Recent electioneering by politicians has thrown up numerous instances of verbal abuse, some of it caste and religion based,  some of it going the extra yard to be outright racist and sexist. 

The politicians continually mock each other, trade personal insults, level charges of scams and graft both real and fabricated, which are intensified by the plethora of 24-hour television news channels vying for the choicest sound bites.

Amid all this rather perverse entertainment there have been several sexual misdemeanor charges aimed at smearing reputations into ruin.

There was at least one good old-fashioned sex scandal with an exposé of an illicit affair complete with salacious details.  Digvijaya Singh, a senior figure in the ruling Congress Party and a recent widower, was heavily criticized for an affair with a married television anchor, reportedly in her early 40s.

Then the Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi made it known for the first time in his poll affidavit that he had a wife whom he married when he was 18.

“I don't hide my relationships which Mr Modi does,” Singh said, leading to further jibes from each party.

This is very new and un-Indian, this talking about sex. Indians have an ingrained, unhealthy discomfort with it despite Hinduism being quite open and graphic about sexuality.

India has temples with statues depicting near pornography, yet the topic of sex is treated as taboo.  Indian scriptures such as the Mahabharata and Rig Vedas talk about sex and sexual relations yet Indians oppose sex education in schools. We love our pornography behind closed doors yet public displays of affection are frowned upon.

All this suppression and hypocrisy is not without its adverse effects.

Sexual violence including rape, kidnapping, homicide for dowry, torture, molestation and sexual harassment, affects as many as 27.5 million women in India and adolescent girls are the victims in 24 per cent of rape cases in the country, according to the National Crime Record Bureau’s collected statistics.

There are also prejudices, stigma, and a variety of misogyny related issues, as well as feticides and mental health cases that stem from an inability to talk openly about sex. 

News headlines such as “Gay professor murdered for sex,” “Minor girl gang raped by five minor boys,” “Student kills minor cousin fearing disclosure of his porn addiction,” “Minor raped at gunpoint” and “Woman cop ends life” all speak loudly about repressed sexuality.

During a recent conference involving the Ministry of Women and Child Development, UNICEF and a few Indian NGOs working for childrens rights, it was reported that 53 percent – more than one in two – children in India are victims of sexual abuse, yet speaking about it is considered taboo in Indian society.

India, it seems, needs a collective sexual reawakening. After all, young people between 10 and 24 years comprise 30.2 percent of the population and 20.9 per cent of that population are adolescents between 10 to 19 years.

Hence it is imperative that sex becomes the cross-cutting theme across relevant conversations as uninformed sexual and reproductive health choices will place them gravely at risk.

How that conversation on sex goes, or does not go, will determine the future population and health of the country. 

Religion is no panacea. In fact as an Indian Christian I seem to have been doubly disadvantaged.  I grew up in a Catholic family, went to a Catholic school and my life revolved around a Catholic parish. Sex, if it was mentioned at all by adults, was almost a dirty word.

With Jesus in the scriptures virtually ignoring the topic of sex and the Catholic religion’s overemphasis on tradition, negation and a high prohibition of premarital, extramarital or homosexual activity, coming to grips with my own sexual identity during adolescence wasn’t easy.

So maybe our politicians have it right after all this election season. Maybe they are starting a revolution by shedding the inhibition to talk about sex – even if it be limited so far to unearthing and hurling sexual misdemeanor charges at other politicians.

Sex after all is natural and it does serve some purpose in the procreation of the species – at least.

Ivan Fernandes is a journalist and commentator based in Hyderabad

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