By Trisha Pande
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
As the Shiksha Bachao Andolan cringes its head at the mention of sex education in schools, one cannot simply accept the argument that this Hindutva organisation has doled out to the public – which argues that rather than following the West and its literary works, schools should take an introspective look at the country’s history and take inspiration from Indian mythology and history.
If one were to turn the knob on a time machine, and revisit some of the earliest paintings from some of the ancient sites of inhabitation, the paintings wouldn’t depict the images of the ‘good’ Indian men and women that the Shiksha Bachao Andolan expects us to become, but of scantily clad primitive people who didn’t really think it was necessary to cover the upper half of their bodies.
This argument sounds rather logically inconsistent, because after all, how can one expect to dress as immodestly as did our ancestors?
Which is precisely the point – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh does expect us to humbly follow India’s past, disregarding the fact that although one can borrow from history in terms of policies, there cannot be an exact recreation of the moral fiber as that of yesterday. Ignoring the fact that social change does take place in Indian society – and very rapidly so, will not solve the problems that the Shiksha Bachao Andolan seeks out to ‘solve’.
Besides, assuming that the West is a lewd and obscene “pleasure-seeking” world and that Indians are prudish is a view that is far from accurate. Indian history is absolutely ridden with images of sexuality and gratification, and the biggest case in point is the Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana, which is a Sanskritic text dating as far back as 400 BCE – 200 CE. It talks about the four main philosophies of Indian life or the purusharthas, namely Dharma, Karma, Atharva and Moksha. These are virtuous living, material prosperity, desire, and liberation.
Vatsyayana states that the youth of a person is for pleasure and as the years roll by the person is expected to earn his living in order to live a virtuous life – exactly what cutting out sex education in India denies the right towards.
The crux of the argument which favours excluding sex education in India from schools and replacing it with moral education so that society shall not become plagued with AIDS, follows the abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education model that some schools in the US teach.
Even this model has been found worthless in actually trying to prevent HIV, and the National Survey of Family Growth revealed that people who practice abstinence are at a higher rate of unwanted pregnancies as well – because the fact remains that sexual desires are psychologically natural and do not simply vanish because they’re declared morally incorrect.
As a matter of fact, even Western societies did not consider sexuality under the ambit of knowledge, and the French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote extensively in his three-volume book, The History of Sexuality, about how it was only during the eighteenth and the nineteenth century that an interest in studying sexuality scientifically came about. The only difference was that the bourgeoisie decided what was perverse and what was socially acceptable – and more importantly, the places and situations that sexuality could and could not be openly expressed in.
Coming back to the Indian subcontinent, it is the land of the Apsaras, who are celestial nymphs that are known to seduce gods and make appearances in a majority of Indian mythology, and the region where a vast number of people worship Krishna, an incarnation of the lord Vishnu, to whom all the gopis of Vrindavan were attracted, swaying to the notes emerging from his flute in a trance-like state.
The minute Indian society decided to make sex a taboo topic; it opened the gates to acts of utter barbarism whenever someone swayed from the socially prescribed norm. Acts of honour killings are nothing more than punishment for openly expressed sexuality, which is viewed as dishonourable and shameful. Denying someone the right towards their own sexuality is also regarded by historians as a Christian influence at times, arguing that India had earlier been open about its desires, but due to changing rulers, it has been forced into taking a Puritanical view.
Curtailing sex education and denying children the right to knowledge within the school walls won’t achieve any improvement for Indian society, not when the Biology syllabus will make classrooms ring with a hundred unanswered questions by adolescents. Having an open mind and helping children and teenagers cope with the changes that are natural to them is a much more rational approach, rather than letting them believe that there is something wrong with them for feeling the way they do.
Trisha Pande is studying Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, and is eager to work on the field and conduct sociological research. She lives among stacks of books which tell tales from different eras, continents and cultures. Writing has always been an outlet for her; and hopefully it shall forever be able to perform that function. Someday, she hopes to visit the women of Afghanistan, live with them and be able to understand their everyday life.