Nitish Kumar’s remarks spark debate about ‘culturally appropriate’ ways of disseminating sex education

Many States across India have been reluctant to implement sex education in schools to preserve ‘culture’

Updated - November 09, 2023 07:18 am IST

Published - November 08, 2023 10:43 pm IST - NEW DELHI

BJP legislators block Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s way at the entrance of the Assembly building in Patna on November 8, 2023 as they protest against remarks he made the previous day.

BJP legislators block Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s way at the entrance of the Assembly building in Patna on November 8, 2023 as they protest against remarks he made the previous day. | Photo Credit: ANI

While the tone and tenor in which Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar raked the topic of family planning in the State Assembly can be debated, it has sparked a controversy over his remarks being ‘culturally inappropriate.’

What Mr. Kumar was referring to in crude terms is withdrawal method or coitus interruptus, one of the methods of family planning where in the act of penetration does not end up in the man ejaculating inside the woman, thus decreasing the chances of conceiving. 

Early roots of family planning are laid in schools as adolescents start discussing reproductive and sexual health in what was deemed as ‘sex education’ in the National Education Policy’s (NEP) draft version released in 2019. 

The draft NEP said that sex education will also be included in secondary school for future judgement surrounding consent, harassment, respect for women, safety, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases prevention. 

But, after the draft went public, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh backed Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas opposed inclusion of ‘sex education’ in the NEP. 

The final version of NEP released in 2020 deleted the paragraph on ‘sex education,’ that was earlier included in the 2019 draft, The Hindu verified. 

States like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been reluctant to implement sex education in school to preserve ‘culture.’

Introducing sex education in schools and the methods around it have been debated since over a decade. In 2020, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare jointly introduced a ‘Health and Wellness Curriculum,’ which also includes education around sexual and reproductive health but the word ‘sex education,’ was not used upfront. 

The curriculum talks about reproductive health and HIV prevention and menstruation in girls. It also addresses the issue of nocturnal emission in boys, using comic strips, showing a child feeling embarrassed when he wakes up with wet pants, and his older brother telling him it is all natural at his age. 

While the ‘health and wellness curriculum’ has been released at a national-level, Sharda AL, Director of non-profit Population First says that teachers in schools are not trained to talk about sex in an educative way that is non-stigmatised, making it hard for them to pass on the message to students. 

Opinion | India needs comprehensive sexuality education

“If you have a great theoretical model but a bad facilitator then it won’t work. Teachers may pass on discomfort to children while talking about sex, gender, reproduction and menstruation. They need to be able to say the terms penis and vagina without getting squeamish about it,” Ms. Sharda said.

“Also at times the teachers feel that talking about sex is bad, or that women should not know about condoms,” she adds. 

Currently, sex education has not been adopted in a standardised fashion across all schools, with dedicated hours taken out for learning during the regular routine. 

An official working with the World Health Organization said that because students may feel uncomfortable talking to teachers, a boy and a girl representative from each class are picked up to become ‘peer educators.’

“They are the ones who are expected to talk with their friends in the class about issues they may be facing,” the official said. 

“At present we are quietly working on training teachers and working with adolescents but without ruffling feathers. The challenge in engaging the far right group on the ‘culturally inappropriate,’ argument will ruffle feathers and ends up deviating the topic into something else like ‘dharma’ and so on,” said another official with an international non-profit working closely with the government in the space. 

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