For a while now, we have been hearing that we’re going to be a global superpower. Well, we can only get closer by topping world in something other than poverty, huh? Perhaps the best way to ensure we leave China behind in some aspect of growth is to make condoms go away; and perhaps the best way for things to stop existing in the public imagination is removing them from television screens.
Let us breathe. There are 1.2 billion of us, and growing every day. Cities are going vertical, shantytowns are cropping up in lands reclaimed from the sea. Clearly, someone is having sex.
And if someone must have sex, perhaps safe sex is not a terrible idea? Perhaps we don’t want to top the world in sexually transmitted diseases too?
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has now decided condoms are not “sanskari” enough, and has prohibited television channels from airing advertisements for condoms from 6 am to 10 pm, since the commercials are apparently “indecent and can impact children.”
The ministry quoted the 1994 Cable Television Network Rules and said condoms would “endanger the safety of children” – which they don’t, though they perhaps endanger their conception – and that they “create an interest in unhealthy practices” in children. Which, again, they don’t, since we have already established that condoms are a rather healthy addendum to sex. Perhaps if enough people used condoms, there would be fewer children to worry about and frame rules for.
I remember, about a decade ago, a used condom was found in the toilet of a prominent CBSE school in Madras. The discovery threw the staff into great consternation, and they came up with a solution which was about as bright as the one the I & B Ministry has – they locked the doors of all the toilets in the school at all times except during recess, forcing students to either ration out their consumption of water or find innovative ways to relieve themselves without using the toilet. Some of the boys decided to jump over the compound walls and use the roadside as a toilet. The girls, having no recourse to such methods, chafed.
As one of the students at the time said: “Basically, they would rather have everyone in the school pee in their pants than have two people indulge in safe sex.”
What is it about a condom that frightens people so much? Is it the idea of sex? Is it the idea of premarital sex? Is it the idea of consensual sex? Is it the idea of healthy sex? Is it the idea that teenagers are aware of sex? Is it the idea of non-procreative sex?
Ironically, most condom ads show a little less lust than commercial cinema, where heroines gyrate against trees and gasp in chiffon sarees the rain, while heroes run their hands over them, contorting their faces into expressions that would frighten most people in the bedroom.
Kissing in public places is banned, but then a video of someone being dismembered and burnt alive in a public place goes viral.
Television news channels host primetime debates that get into the intricacies of whether a teenager was sexually assaulted before she was murdered, discussing the vaginal swabs of a thirteen-year-old child.
Speaking of prime time television, let’s recall where we first encountered the woman who heads the I & B ministry now. She, who is now so keen on setting the right example for children, was the embodiment of the long-suffering daughter-in-law, the face of fortitude in dealing with a mother-in-law, who according to the title, had once been a daughter-in-law.
I cannot speak of the specifics of the K-serials, having never suffered through a single episode. But I have seen enough trailers for “mega-serials” on television, advertisements for that most popular genre of women-hating-on-women, in which women slap each other, get slapped by men, get raped by men, and receive sanctimonious lectures on how they should behave like women. Men beat each other up, men slap women, men rape women, on prime time television. Animals are eaten on prime time television, to much tongue-smacking.
All this violence is fine. And yet, love and its expressions are not kosher.
In the first season of Bigg Boss Tamil, the biggest controversy in the house was a mysterious kiss that was belatedly revealed to have been exchanged between two housemates. When people wanted to know why the kiss had not been shown to the audience, the host Kamal Haasan explained, “Since it airs at a time when children are also watching television, we must refrain from showing certain scenes.” But, they had no hesitation in airing two suicide attempts, none in showing people swearing at and insulting each other.
The Confederation of All India Traders, which supports the ban on condom advertisements, believes “such ads often violate our social values and have an adverse impact of growing children especially teenagers.”
It is the impact condom ads have on teenagers that is most effective in preventing teen pregnancies. And what are the social values they violate?
The authorities have quoted regulations which prohibit “indecent, vulgar, suggestive, repulsive or offensive themes” in advertisements.
What are these themes? Deodorant ads are certainly repulsive, and I do want to throw up every time someone sniffs an underarm and stands in the shower as computer generated worms begin to crawl in their armpits. And then the deodorant arrives to save the day, but not our appetites. Deodorant ads have a strange way of airing during dinner time.
Advertisements for fairness creams are certainly offensive, and one could make the argument that women repeatedly pouring ink into sanitary pads or men repeatedly pouring toilet cleaners into the bowl are fairly vulgar.
So, why have these not been banned?
Chances are that between December 11 and 13, the word most searched by teenagers on the internet would be “condom” and the ad most sought by them on the internet would be “Sunny Leone condom ad”.
Well done, oh, sanskaari saviours!