By Sushil Kutty
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was the wrong guy at the wrong place. He should have been an American speaking to a house of US legislators. And to think that modern-day Indians make such a hue and cry about free speech. What about Nitish Kumar’s right to free speech? After all, what was his crime? He wasn’t lying; he only spoke what was in the book, maybe not verbatim, but the gist of the truth explained – connecting sex education with population dynamics. Spoken in a classroom, students would have asked for clarifications, adding stretches of their own imaginations, and gone on to the next class without raising ruckus like the BJP MLAs of the Bihar assembly did after Nitish Kumar taught them the nitty-gritty of population growth and sex education.
Outcome: media and Opposition turned sex education into pornography. And for two evenings in a row, TV news channels couldn’t talk and debate about anything but what all goes on in bedrooms between “ladka and ladki” and all that goes on in the art and science of baby-making. It was like the media and the Opposition had finally found their purpose in life – Nitish Kumar was labelled pervert, voyeur and what have you not by the party of prudes.
Nitish Kumar’s straight-talk did not penetrate thick skulls and dull heads. He told a room full of adults like it should be told and then because they’re old fashioned, he got mauled for being down to earth and matter of fact. Like a couple of defenders of free-speech champions said later, the Bihar Chief Minister was the finest example of providing sex-education with a minimum of fuss.
Whoever sought the speech be expunged was doing a disservice to sex-education, never mind what all was done to fine speech. Modern-day legislators should lose their inhibitions first and then step into the hallowed halls of law-making. They cannot forever hang in the margins of today and yesterday.
After all, Nitish Kumar wasn’t in a classroom. And he wasn’t the only adult in the room. Everybody who marked ‘present’ was above 18, an adult by any stretch of the imagination. And Nitish Kumar was describing what everybody in the room knew from practice. It wasn’t ‘Breaking News’. In his enthusiasm, the Bihar Chief Minister got carried away.
Now, “they” are calling it “crude remarks” and they haven’t stopped at “reprimand”. Some of them want his resignation. Others say he’s suffering from dementia. One BJP spokesman, a physician by profession, said Nitish Kumar was going graphic on “Coitus Interruptus” and the spokesman made it sound like Nitish Kumar had committed a great crime, vulgar and forbidden.
This same fellow diagnosed Kumar as a patient of undetected dementia and strongly argued that the right place for the Bihar Chief Minister was a psychiatric asylum.
Nitish Kumar has apologised for teaching ‘sex’ to the legislators after BJP women activists took to the streets and burned his effigies. Nitish Kumar took back his words. That, however, did not stem demands for his resignation. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the charge against Nitish Kumar, who incidentally is one of the several opposition leaders who have laid claim to the Prime Minister’s chair.
Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi haven’t been the best of friends and politics binds them as much as it separates them. Nitish Kumar shouldn’t have apologized at all. Kumar was speaking on the caste census and had strayed into speaking on how education made women acquire knowledge about the huge benefits of family planning, adding that husbands usually always forgot family planning but educated wives did not.
The gist of what Nitish Kumar spoke was that educated women made sure sex did not end in unnecessary pregnancies. That was all that was needed for the Opposition to go ballistic. False equivalences were drawn and fake outrage flooded the media. Some media wrote outraged editorials and everybody except the barber asked for Nitish Kumar’s head.
The Chief Minister’s mistake was he taught the same lesson twice, on the same day, once in the Legislative Assembly, and then, again, in the Legislative Council. Outside the legislative, Nitish explained it better: “We found that on a national level if a man and woman are matric pass (graduated class 10), then the fertility rate is at 2. In Bihar, also, if both man and woman are matric pass, then the fertility rate is at 2. If the woman (has graduated) inter or more (class 12 or above) then, on the national level, the fertility rate is 1.7. In Bihar, it was 1.6.”
The problem is even this clear explanation did not breach thick skulls and dull heads. The BJP and its allies are questioning INDI-Alliance’s “silence”, asking why Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi haven’t spoken? The opposition parties think they have the INDI-Alliance by the short hair after Nitish Kumar’s sex-education class. The Bihar Chief Minister should ignore his detractors and continue championing population control like there is no such thing called “Coitus Interruptus”. That will be a lesson for all those who are against sex-education and family planning. (IPA Service)