OPINION: India’s Sex-Ed Controversy
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
India’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan, is on the defensive after he questioned the focus on condom use in the fight against the spread of H.I.V. Late last month, Dr. Vardhan, who is a surgeon by profession, defended a call on his website to ban sex education. India has the largest population of young people ages 10 to 19 in the world — about 243 million — and the third-largest population of people with H.I.V. after South Africa and Nigeria. Far too many Indians lack access to basic knowledge about sexuality and reproductive health.
Dr. Vardhan has said he called for a ban on sex education in opposition to a 2007 health education program for adolescents promoted by India’s National AIDS Control Organization and its Ministry of Human Resource Development. This explanation raises alarming questions about his ideological agenda.
Conservative Hindu groups vigorously opposed the 2007 education program, saying it was an affront to traditional Indian family values. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — a Hindu right-wing group with which Dr. Vardhan has a long association — and the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti and its leader, Dinanath Batra, led the attack, which included threats of physical violence against teachers and schools that dared to carry out the program. Sex education in public schools was subsequently banned by several Indian states.
Mr. Batra and his organization made news earlier this year after they forced the withdrawal from publication in India of “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” a book by the scholar Wendy Doniger. Mr. Batra claimed the book offended the religious sentiments of Hindus.