Jaipur, India – The bed is the ultimate resting place for men and women. It is here we all draw pleasure, comfort and fulfill carnal desires also. I remember more than a decade ago, when internet was not in easy reach of all and the mobile had not revolutionized India, a popular news magazine released an issue containing a sex survey on Indian couples. The edition was such a hit that almost everyone knew about it, and this ‘very special’ edition was removed from the reach of students in college libraries on the pretext of having porn content, but I knew that it was rather much in demand and the subject of discussions among the teaching and management fraternity. This hypocrisy on sexual matters is a hallmark of Indian society which has the larger national concern to have birth control methods to not compete with China on the front of population expansion at least.
How a country, with the ancient Sanskrit treatise on sexuality and eroticism ‘Kamasutra’ talking boldly on virtues, wealth and romantic love, fell into the trap of sex-stigma must be a matter of social science research. But the truth is porn sites and videos are filling the vacuum in every adult life which should have been filled with love and love coaches instead. Attention on behavior in personal lives is all the more urgent now with rising sexual crimes against children and women overshadowing mature discussions on sex, love and fertility. Love cannot of course be forced upon, but most men have used their power, derived from the patriarchy norms, to resist contraceptive methods and put the entire burden of it on women.
Data proves it better. Only 0.3 percent men in India use contraceptive methods while 36 percent women adopt it. This is despite the fact that male vasectomy and contraception are medically less complicated and safer. The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) has shown a decline in the use of contraception, but Economic Survey of India has indicated drop in population growth which definitely is a reason to rejoice. Apparently, women of India must take all the credit of this. They are more disciplined, easier to deal or connect with; and not so ignorant now about their reproductive rights and health.
I remember while working in a mainstream popular print media, a budding journalist researched on condoms for women, interestingly he was not shy sharing it with me. I encouraged him to submit the story to the city desk to see the fate of the story. It was part of our social experiment to also see how people on the desk and city editors would react to it. I waited for the story to appear in due course with some intelligent editing, but as expected it was killed without any discussion in the newsroom. These are still hush-up subjects and male vasectomy is entirely missing from our discourse and policies. It can be inferred easily that both have given up on men. Some also mention the dark chapter of forced sterilization during the period of emergency, when Sanjay Gandhi, son of Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, dictated policies which backfired, and henceforth every political party kept men beyond the radar of family planning strategies.
But it is as warped an argument as is the recent demand by some politicians to take away voting rights of those having more than two children. India advocates two child families, but it has not adopted coercive or punitive policies, except in emergency period, to implement this norm assuming it will be effort intensive with no assurance of outcomes. Though, at grassroots politics, some Indian states have made it mandatory to have two children in order to be eligible to contest elections and in government service (civil service rules) also, opportunities were linked with two child norms later to be relaxed after being challenged on their legality.
India was the first developing country to launch state sponsored family planning program in 1951 and now National Population Policy (NPP) emphasizes on enabling environment to have better choice through improved gender policies, better child survival, maternal health and contraception addressed comprehensively. The NPP has the target to reach total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman by 2045. Since 2017 the family planning target is voluntary where it is the prerogative of the person to choose the method of their choice and comfort. And all the efforts are directed at women only.
Nirma, a community health worker (ASHA – Accredited Social Health Activist) shares that condoms are freely available at government health centers but no man ever enquires or uses it in her village. She has not heard male vasectomy talked about or even thought of as an option at all. She shares that women are very receptive and take charge of their reproductive choices without any hesitation now. The government schemes of direct benefit transfers in banks as an incentive for their nutrition, sterilization and education needs have created a favorable environment with better delivery systems than before and at governance levels there is clear understanding about options and services doing more good than state control.
The national health survey shows women’s education as a clear differentiator in fertility. Women who have no schooling bear average 3.1 children while those who reached at the higher secondary level or more have average 1.7 children. Hence, nationally, there are efforts to encourage girl education as impacts every aspect of development. It is still scary to see average child birth rate as high as 3.41 and 3.04 in Indian states like Bihar and Meghalaya respectively, where there is lowest use of contraception also. It is noticeable that when men are not in focus of population policies and all education and information on birth control and spacing is transferred through women, male arrogance and misconceptions in matters of sex, love and contraception, will be hard to bury.
Surely, the best way is graded sex education and dialogue which must start right since the age of puberty in schools, but the system is still not oriented to impart it despite much openness because of cell phone penetration now in urban and rural India alike. The worry is also about that set of population of men who are already out of education cycle, part of work force and in reproductive age group. They are beyond the easy reach of health workers. They all can to be taught about safe-sex and to restrict it at will only if “Kamasutra” can reincarnate in their smart-phones as a close counsel. This seems the only hope to talk sense, keep both men and women in loop to outsmart China in the coming eight years by not overtaking it in population and defy recent projections of the UN’s World Population Prospects report for 2027.