Right at that moment, my father would remember that he needed to count the loose change in his purse so that we couldn't sneak a few out to buy cigarettes. D's mother would inevitably forget if she had left anything to boil on the stove, and rush to the kitchen. P's parents took turns to stare at the wall clock or turn... no yank pages of a newspaper so loudly that it made that sharp, crunchy noise. A's father thought, that was the perfect time to bring up her lack of progress in algebra. However, a universal favourite with all our parents was staring at the ceiling fan with wide-eyed eagerness like it was about to pop Govinda in a shiny waistcoat. Sometime in the late 90s, one of our favourite lunchtime activities was discussing how our parents braved the apocalypse that was a condom commercial surfacing on the television when we were in the same room as them.
There was a pattern -- denial, distraction and in some cases, extreme mortification usually characterised by one or both parents being hit by a sudden avalanche of coughing or yawning or loud sighing. At 13, we barely knew what a condom exactly was -- what it looked like, what it was made of, what it's purpose was -- but we figured it was something that brought deep, gut-wrenching shame along with it. We were made to understand that it was some kind of a dirty little secret best left to surface and disappear from television screens as we held our breaths and hoped the moment would pass without touching our pristine little lives. Even when reproductive systems and birth control appeared on the pages of our text books, we were expected to regard the existence of the same, especially condoms, with a fair amount of contempt. At schools, at home, in peer groups huddled during lunch-breaks to guess which 'gross' person in our friend's building had dared to buy a pack, the empty box of which had landed in public view in their driveway -- scorn was supposed to be the only sentiment reserved for condoms or any discussion around it.
At 13, we barely knew what a condom exactly was -- what it looked like, what it was made of, what it's purpose was -- but we figured it was something that brought deep, gut-wrenching shame along with it.
Years later, none of this stopped people from having sex in high school or college. But they definitely stopped a fair share of my peers from practicing safe sex. From contracting STDs and popping pills based on hearsay to opting for secretive, unsafe abortions, women I know of have embraced tragedies far bigger than children apparently losing their childhood to condom commercials.
In a culture that relentlessly asks you to treat basic freedoms with deep suspicion, a condom was the harbinger of several tragedies. While everyone knew, technically it's meant to stem tragedies of various magnitudes -- unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV -- we were actively encouraged to not acknowledge its existence with candour.
As women, we are especially burdened with several such 'shame generators' -- sanitary napkins, birth control medicines, pregnancy test kits in case we're not flaunting any obvious marker of having submitted to matrimony. Now since no one said life's going to be an extended shampoo commercial, at most times, we simply roll our eyes, shake our heads and count hours till the day the world decides to emerge from under the rock it loves living under.
From contracting STDs and popping pills based on hearsay to opting for secretive, unsafe abortions, women I know of have embraced tragedies far bigger than children apparently losing their childhood to condom commercials.
However, even that becomes incredibly more difficult when the government -- a democratically elected body -- decides to behave like a queasy, complaining neighbour who is more repulsed by people who have sex than perhaps by those who urinate on walls.
Recently, at the behest of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the Information of Broadcasting Ministry has issued a guideline restricting the screening of condom ads on television between 10pm and 6am. The decision, it has been argued by the government, was taken keeping in mind that children watch television and must not be exposed -- and this is where the logic gets fuzzy -- anything 'indecent'. Invoking a rule laid down in 1994, which seeks to protect children from viewing anything that is '"indecent, vulgar, suggestive, repulsive or offensive themes or treatment", the decision of strike off condom ads from prime time television was taken.
In a country which has an alarming rate of adolescent pregnancies, the government just made a method of birth control sound like a vulgar prcatice that shouldn't be normalised in our casual, everyday conversations. Take a moment to curb the urge to remind the powers-that-be which century this is and then introduce them of a fantastic aspect of our lives called science.
Effectively, by associating condom ads with words such as 'vulgar', 'indecent', 'offensive', the government isn't protecting children from anything, but endorsing every myth about sex, shoving youngsters towards unsafe, guilty sex steeped in shame and self-doubt. Earlier this year, it was reported that at least 10 women die every year from resorting to unsafe abortions. By trying to paint a method of safe sex as a practice that's essentially morally dubious, the government is simply patting patriarchy on its back, almost saying that as long as our famed sanskaar is in place, doesn't matter if a few young lives fall off the rails.
Earlier this year, it was reported that at least 10 women die every year from resorting to unsafe abortions.
The advertising council has told The Indian Express that they had received various complaints about the timings of the commercials. While they didn't find the contents objectionable, they forwarded the complaints to the ministry to take a call on the same. It is not clear if the council is under any compulsion to immediately act on complaints registered by consumers, but it seems this was a issue they were very keen on resolving. Though the government wasn't worried about children getting misleading ideas about what constitutes 'beauty' from fairness cream ads, the council had themselves issued guidelines on what commercials cannot portray while trying to peddle a skin lightening products. Similarly, the council could have come up with guidelines that compel brands and advertisers to think out of the box and not resort to sleaze in order to make a commercial on condoms. Or perhaps restrict ads that choose to focus exclusively on sexual pleasure to play at a non-prime time slot.
If the complainants, who the council and the government decided to take seriously, had a problem with the very fact of sex, they're the problems at hand, not condoms, or commercials promoting them. You'd think, a government -- a body of individuals tasked to run a country of billions -- would know better than indulging such infantile 'concerns'. But alas, it's the same one that wouldn't screen a film at a festival because it had 'sexy' in the title.
P.S. If you're a parent and struggling to impart sex education to your child, here's a list of useful resources that has more answers than the ceiling fan or the government of the country has.