The people of India must have been dying to be told what their culture is, or they would never have voted the Bharatiya Janata Party in so eagerly. They would have known that the BJP in government would mean definitions of ‘Indian culture’ pouring out of every ministry, governing every aspect of people’s lives. The ball has been set rolling by the Union health minister, but he has picked two hoary old chestnuts — AIDS and sex education in schools. And his stand on both is hoary too. Fidelity to a single partner, that is, husband or wife, is better than using condoms to prevent AIDS. Having delivered this moralistic advice, he has done a coy ballet on his own website about ‘distortion’ of his message by the media. Now he has gone to town on the same website about sex education in schools being against ‘Indian culture’; pupils should have ‘value’ education instead. It is a little startling to have a health minister in a country of more than a billion people advising against sex education in schools, but perhaps logic is not his strong point? Neither is a sense of reality, it would seem, because the faster growth and wider exposure of children nowadays make a serious discussion of sex with adults very helpful.
But the minister has turned coy again; he clearly cannot deal with protest. He claims he just wants what amounts to ‘cultured’ presentation of sex education. Why he should assume teachers or syllabus-makers would be crude is difficult to imagine. And then there is the favourite alibi of the United Progressive Alliance. Many states rejected the UPA’s adolescent education programme in 2007; the health minister says he is objecting to that, just like some states did in 2007. Funny: this is 2014. Funnier that the BJP spokesperson has said that the opinions are the minister’s own; the subject has not been discussed in the government. Maybe this is a gentle run-up to a policy about school education. What remains a mystery is why schools cannot be left to decide whether they wish to impart sex education and how they want to do it. They may wish to discuss sex by suiting it to the demographic profile of the students, not some imposed, monolithic version of ‘Indian culture’. The syllabus should be flexible enough to include a variety of models for the communication of such an important subject. That would be better than leaving India’s children at the mercy of a minister’s personal opinion on his website.