Published: 12th February 2020
Madras University, several Chennai colleges to send students for gaana competition on Int'l Condom Day
This is the 13th edition of 'International Condom Day' that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is organising but it is the first time, the event is happening in Chennai
Here's something you probably never thought you'd hear — College campuses from across Chennai are sending their students to participate in a programme organised for 'International Condom Day'. According to the promotional material, the programme is also being supported by Madras University and is being held at YMCA Nandanam on February 13. In the land where our Biology teachers awkwardly skip through the chapter on reproduction and our gynaecologists ask women if they are married to find out if they are sexually active or not, this is seriously waking territory. In the very same land, the organisers will be distributing condoms and telling youngsters that 'Safer is Sexy'.
This is the 13th edition of International Condom Day that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is organising but it is the first time that the event is happening in Chennai. The Foundation is one of the largest organisations in the world to be working in the field of AIDS Prevention and this event is a method to spread the word about safe sex to the young and old and take away the stigma attached to condoms. Dr V Sam Prasad, the country-coordinator for AHF tells us that the organisation has been working towards promoting easier access to condoms and helping disrupt the stigma that surrounds it.
But how in the world did the organisers get the colleges on board, in a time when we still whisper the word 'sex'? Sam laughed at our question but claims that Madras University and the NSS cell, which is also a partner in the event was quite supportive of the cause. "The first case of AIDS was discovered in Chennai and so, Chennai was the first to create an outreach programme and take steps to prevent the disease. Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer when it came to intervention, so when we decided to have the programme here this time, we received a warm welcome. They also said it was the need of the hour, " Sam tells us. Almost 20-25 colleges are also sending their students to participate in the event.
Besides distributing condoms, the event will also have a free HIV testing centre, a Limca Book of Records attempt at forming a giant condom, free counselling and advocacy — but the highlight is an inter-college AIDS Gaana contest. The event will have prominent gaana artists performing and colleges can also participate in the contest as well. AJ Hariharan, the Founder-Secretary of Indian Community Welfare Organisation, that has also created a major impact in the area of rehabilitation for HIV positive patients, said, "Now, gaana is the most popular thing among young people, so we thought why not make it the main session of the event, so that more students come, participate and also learn. It is the best tool to reach out to the masses," he explained. Professional gaana singers Gaana Edwin, Gaana Vinoth, Gaana Jr Nithya and others will be performing gaana songs about condom use and safe sex.
There is an interesting story behind why the organisation chose February 13 as the day to observe Condom Day — Sam tells us that statistics show that most number of condoms are sold the day before Valentine's Day. So what better day than February 13. "So we just decided to piggyback on this day," Sam tells us. "In the 80s, 90s and even the 20s there used to be a lot of programmes to spread awareness on sexual health. But these days, young people get all their information from the internet which could lead to misconceptions and wrong ideas that could be very dangerous, which is why it is important to go back to the days of proper campaigns and programmes," Sam explains.
He says that the event's tagline 'Safer is Sexy' has also found a lot of appreciation, "Whether it is after marriage or before or if it casual sex — it is important for youngsters to be safe and happy. They should be able to get access to condoms and not be affected by the stigma that surrounds it. It has to be normalised. This also includes members of the LGBTQIA+ community too," he explained. Speaking about the case of a 13-year-old who had sodomised some younger children, Sam said that there was a danger with children not having the right kind of access to information.
Sam also mentions that there is an online condom purchasing site called 'Free Condoms' and they hope to create awareness about this facility as well. This way, the team hopes the taboo on condoms goes away, "We even want families to talk to their children about it. I want to ensure my children also use safety when they indulge in sexual intercourse. It is time we normalise," he adds.
But despite all the pros of conducting this event, are they not afraid of backlash and criticism from groups that believe sex education 'encourages' students to indulge in sex? "Well, so far we haven't received any such reactions. So far we have only received a lot of support." Sam said.
Even though he feels that the internet is the wrong place to find information, Sam jokingly shared a forward he received on WhatsApp and it read — After 900 people died from coronavirus and the whole world is wearing masks. But 38 million people have AIDS but still nobody wants to wear a condom. Through International Condom Day, the team hopes to educate and save lives.
So the next time, you nervously walk into a medical store and slyly pick up condoms, you can remind yourself that you are saving two lives, yours and your partner's.