The Ban Karo Syndrome

Lately, India is caught up in reacting with ‘ban Karo’ to anything and everything that remotely hurts our pride or disrupts our viewpoints. Ban on certain websites, ban on meat, ban on films, ban this ban that the list goes on.

As a person working in the health sector to empower people living with HIV, I would like to briefly talk about the ban on condom TV ads from airing from 10 pm to 6 am. This invariably means limited exposure and reach for the ads and especially during prime time.

The condom ads were considered indecent for the viewing of children. On the surface it seems a well-meaning prohibition, however, if we look at the ban in context of few other facts about India such as its bloating population and a worrisome number of annual abortions – it is evident how little India knows or practices safe-sex.

According to an article written in 2016 in India Spend 10 million women secretly undergo abortion every year in India, 80% of them at home. Another article that appeared on The Diplomat in 2017, termed it as ‘abortion epidemic’. Despite health risks, middle-class women in India are increasingly resorting to unlicensed abortions. Termination of pregnancy is not a class issue, it persists in all classes. Unplanned pregnancy, teen pregnancy, gender selection, rape or marital rape are some of the reasons why Indian women go through abortion risking their own health, some of them multiple times.

As per the article on The Diplomat, many women voiced that men don’t like to use condom because of the limited sexual pleasure. In a patriarchal society like ours, it is no surprise that the male pleasure is the priority here not the health of women. And when a woman gets pregnant her husband and other family members get furious with her. This is why women are left alone to deal with unwanted pregnancies with no or little support.

What about teen pregnancies? It is not only happening in America as we assume, even in India the age of sexually active people is getting much younger. If this survey is to be believed, the average age of sexually active Indian is 14. You may probably deny it owing to our culture of high moral standards but I for one would like to believe it is true. Even though we like to keep mum on the topic of sex these data speak volumes about our collective behaviour.

Condoms are a key component of comprehensive HIV prevention. In our fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS in India, we go on a full force to create awareness on safe-sex. According to WHO, condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are highly effective in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

My office has a large fish-bowl kept in the reception area filled with condoms for employees or visitors to pick up for free of cost. It doesn’t mean we are promoting sex. As healthcare sector workers, we believe in promoting safety, advocating prevention, allowing informed choices, and upholding human dignity.

Who knows an ad featuring Sunny Leone could be the one to persuade Indian men to buy and use condoms. If India can afford smartphones we sure can afford a luxury brand of condoms. Ban culture is not really the characteristics of a democracy. If we must ban then let’s ban ignorance, ban stigma, ban discrimination, ban violence and ban rape.

Written By: Tara Rana/End AIDS India