India has very high maternal mortality rates, unsatisfactory infant mortality rates, high rates of incidence of anaemia, tuberculosis, jaundice, malaria etc. AIDS is also taking a higher toll every year.
The health of young girls and women is under severe attack from sexual violence, gender discrimination, early marriages, frequent pregnancies, neglect and malnutrition. In such a situation, the Minister for Health and Family Welfare has to pay a high degree of attention to preventive methods and to the dissemination of the knowledge that is needed to help poor, underprivileged people to combat disease and health hazards.
In such a situation, it is completely unacceptable that the present Minister, who happens to be a medical doctor, feels that emphasis on his particular brand of morality should be given priority over policies that are either preventive or educational in nature.
In two consecutive days, the Minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan has made statements that have outraged not only medical practitioners but all those who are working in the field of health related issues and health policy.
On the first occasion, he said that fidelity towards one’s marriage partner was more important than the use of condoms as far as prevention of AIDS is concerned. A statement like this not only exposes his lack of sensitivity to the vulnerability of large numbers of women and minors who are sexual partners, willing and unwilling, of people infected with the AIDS virus but also reveals his complete lack of understanding of the pressing need to promote the use of condoms in a social climate that resists this.
The very real danger of Dr. Harsh Vardhan using his position to substitute moral platitudes for crucial preventive measures is immeasurable. He is actually exposing lakhs of women and men and minors of both sexes to the very risks and dangers that he has been entrusted with the responsibility to minimize.
Not content with the damage already inflicted by his irresponsible moralising, Dr. Harsh Vardhan went on to state the very next day that he was in favour of doing away with sex education in schools and colleges. He probably believes that it is the introduction of sex education that is responsible for growing moral turpitude and sexual promiscuity and attacks. Not only is he completely mistaken but, once again, he is endangering the health and safety of millions, especially women and young girls.
In our society, sex and related issues are not discussed in homes and among family members. The questions troubling adolescents remain unanswered. They are often not able to recognise sexual misconduct and assault. They do not realise the dangers that these can create for their minds and bodies. In such a situation, sex education that is designed with sensitivity and intelligence is of the utmost importance.
It is most unfortunate that the Minister for Health and Family Welfare seems to be set upon a course of endangering both.