condoms in india

Can You Guess Which Theocracy In Asia is Banning Condom Ads On Prime-Time TV?

The answer, it may surprise you to hear, is not in the Middle East, but is India.

This week, the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, banned condom ads on prime time television in India between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on accounts of these adverts being ‘indecent.’ The last straw, apparently, was an adv featuring actress, model, and former porn star Sunny Leone, who has often come under attack by conservative Indian commentators for her unapologetic sexuality and uncensored feminist views.

Needless to say, this move is seen locally as not only as hopelessly socially regressive, but also damaging for communities in India, who face: incomprehensive and flawed sex education resulting in unsafe abortions and early pregnancies among young women; already low and understudied rates of condom use; an increase in sexually transmitted infections among young people; and the third largest H.I.V epidemic in the world. Activists, child psychiatrists, healthcare workers and advertisement professionals have all together condemned the ban as “regressive method of functioning from right-wing politics”.

But this move should not be seen as surprising from a government that has been controlled by the religious right since at least 2014. In the past few years, India’s right has re-criminalized homosexuality; banned porn; attempted to roll back trans rights to a draconian degree; excluded women from political positions; stood against the criminalization of marital rape; protected and supported religious leaders arrested for large-scale sexual abuse and sexual slavery; seen an increase in politicians threatening sexual violence against minority women; seen an increase in violence, including sexual violence, against Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim women with impunity; and attempted to censor films that are ‘lady-oriented’ or that discuss female sexuality.

A ‘theocracy,’ as opposed to a democracy, is defined as a country that is ruled by those who claim to represent God and God’s religious principles. With these actions taken by the Hindu right in the name of the country’s cultural and religious values, it’s compelling to claim that India’s democracy is slowly being replaced by theocratic rule.

What does this mean for those of us living in the United States? Well, theocracy across the board has regressive and oppressive implications for women everywhere: whether it’s Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on the women’s vote; India’s condom advert ban; or the fact that the entirety of the United States had to come together to wrest control of Alabama out of the hands of a theocratic, Christian fundamentalist who sexually assaults young girls.

Yet our outrage over these issues is dictated by Islamophobia;  and the conversation around the dangers of a regressive, theocratic government curbing rights, especially for women and female sexuality, has always centered around the Middle East. We you don’t see the same medica coverage or cultural panic as when a member of India’s ruling party calls for the beheading of a Bollywood actress, or when Christian evangelical leaders authorize Trump to carry out the nuclear holocaust.

This Islamophobia has dangerous implications. It ignores the fact that our Muslim siblings are victims of oppression and marginalization and it allows us excuse religious fanaticism, state-sponsored repression of women, and conservatism when it comes from Hindu, Christian, Buddhist or Jewish right wing governments. We here in the United States ourselves face a crisis of theocratic extremism, with the religious right and the Republicans attempting to roll back abortion rights, birth control, and protections against gender violence. The United States is also instrumental in propping up alleged ‘democratic’ regimes underlined by strong right-wing, religious undercurrents. India’s right wing, Modi led government, for example, was propped up in part with the generous support of an allegedly ‘liberal’ diaspora community who may likely see themselves as opposed to Trump, and opposed to human rights abuses in the Middle East, but are oblivious to the parallels within the Hindu right in India.

Right-wing extremism is a problem in every country, including and especially the United States and India. These governments should not be allowed to hide behind the world’s Islamophobia and blinkered view of what constitutes a theocracy. They must be recognized for what they are and held accountable accordingly.

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Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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