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Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
The great Indian sex debate
The Indian government's recent attempt to introduce sex education for school children has provoked a vigorous debate. In the first of two articles, the BBC's Jyotsna Singh considers the case in favour of a more open discussion of sex in schools.

Khajuraho temple
Many say sex has been an integral part of Indian culture

"Who says discussing sex is against Indian culture? I don't think this is a point worth debating any more," Naina Kapoor, Director of the NGO, Sakshi, told the BBC.

"We are simply in denial when we say things like it is against our culture," she says.

Sakshi is a leading Delhi-based NGO, trying to create sexuality awareness in India.

Needless to say their job has not been easy.

"Parents, teachers, students none of them are comfortable talking about the subject initially," says Smita Bhartia, a programme co-ordinator at Sakshi.

"But we don't just barge in and start talking about the subject. We organise seminars, workshops to try and get people talking about it."

Taboo

India is world famous for its ancient manual on sex - the Kamasutra - and temples with erotic structures in Khajuraho in central India.

So, many ask, how come sex has become a taboo subject in modern India?

Health Minister Ramadoss (Pic: Geeta Pandey)
In our country, we do sex. But we don't want to talk about it and that is why we have a billion population
Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss

Aids activists insist that India must launch an awareness campaign about the disease on a war footing.

They say that young children must be made an integral part of this information campaign.

"We have evaluated the need for sex education in schools. It is most essential. The only thing is how you do it when some people have cultural issues," Sujatha Rao, the director of the National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) says.

The decision to impart sex education to pupils in the age group of 14-18 is part of the government's Adolescence Education Programme (AEP).

Officials say the programme aims to integrate sex education in the school curriculum and is designed and developed to reflect the concerns of parents and adolescents.

Banned

The sex education package for teachers was developed by the Ministry of Education and Naco in consultation with the Unicef .

State governments are allowed to modify and devise their own teaching aid in keeping with local sentiments.

But several states have recently banned the introduction of sex education altogether in their schools.

JL Pandey, the government's coordinator for the Adolescent Education Programme, AEP says: "There is resistance to the programme because of its newness."

"There cannot be a universally accepted formula to give sex education. It is bound to vary," he says .

Many parents and students are supportive of the government efforts.

"I would feel more comfortable learning about such things from a teacher, they are like our friends," Manya, a class ten student in Delhi told the BBC.

Manya says her biology teacher helped her have general awareness about the subject when she was 12.

She says she found the information quite useful.

"It was pretty detailed. The teacher did warn us about what precautions to take," she says.

Helping parents too

Rekha Sen Gupta, a parent in Madhya Pradesh, shared Manya's sentiments.

"I would be very pleased if my children get this kind of education in school."

Manya, class 10 student in Delhi
I would feel more comfortable learning about such things from a teacher, they are like our friends
Manya, a class ten student in Delhi

"Otherwise, they might try to lay their hands on undesirable material such as pornography. It is better to get scientific knowledge from an expert," she says.

Some parents even say they have themselves benefited from the information being given to their children in schools.

"I grew up knowing nothing about these things," says another parent Anuja Shankar.

"Even after my marriage there were so many things that I was really unsure about. I would like my daughter to be more aware of these things."

Federal government officials say they are aware of the sensitivities and significance of the issue.

"We have just held a workshop with various state government officials where we exchanged ideas about the differences that exist on the issue," Mr JL Pandey said.

"Varied perceptions on an issue like this are normal, but that does not mean the programme itself should be discontinued."

Meanwhile, an alarmed federal health minister has issued a grim warning to the states opposed to the move.

"They will be the losers if awareness is not created at the right age," Anbumani Ramadoss said.

"In our country, we do sex. But we don't want to talk about it and that is why we have a billion population," he said.

In part two, the BBC's Jyotsna Singh will examine the case against sex education


SEE ALSO
Condoms for Indian porn watchers
11 Jun 07 |  South Asia
'First India condom disco' opens
02 May 07 |  South Asia
Indian state bans sex education
03 Apr 07 |  South Asia
Social taboos pressure lesbian love
06 Jun 05 |  South Asia
Sex-case Delhi schoolboy bailed
22 Dec 04 |  South Asia
India and Aids - dodging the issue?
25 Jul 03 |  South Asia
Indian sex educators tackle Aids
19 Nov 02 |  South Asia
India's first sex museum
26 Nov 02 |  South Asia



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