Attempting to talk about sexual health in an urban environment like Gurgaon is a bit like trying to pierce an extremely dark and dank tunnel with a ray of light. Fumbling around in this tunnel of silence are young and old men and women, unsure of why their bodies behave the way they do, and with a morbid fear of initiating conversations even among friends.
Is it okay to masturbate? Do women masturbate? They do? Oh my god! Can I know more? I keep getting white discharge, what do I do? Is it normal? What is normal? My wife is pregnant, can we continue having sex? I have a right to say no? Really?
Consent, consequences, biology and behaviour, where will all these conversations happen? They do not happen at home, they certainly do not happen at school, and very often, they do not happen even between married couples. It is this deadlock of taboo that Chahat Chowk attempts to break with frank, informed and non-judgmental conversations around sexual and reproductive health on radio. It’s the perfect marriage between topics buried by taboo and a medium that affords anonymity and privacy, especially for women.
Chahat Chowk is a community-learning program on Gurgaon Ki Awaaz Samudayik Radio (The Voice of Gurgaon Community Radio) that focuses on encouraging community members, especially men and women between 20 and 40 years to talk about sex and reproduction, and about their feelings and their fears. At the heart of the 20-minute program, which is followed by a 60-minute live phone-in segment during which a doctor or an ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) are available to answer questions, are stories –stories of being married off at 12 and being terrorized by the sexual act, stories of going through nearly a dozen pregnancies and abortions because of the family pressure to have a boy, stories of husbands raping their wives unendingly, stories of husbands who really care for their wives but cannot understand why her body behaves the way it does, stories of fear, of pain, of joy and of relief.
Built around these narratives, recorded in their own voices but altered to conceal identity, are informational nuggets about adolescence, menstruation, contraception, conception, consent and common myths and misconceptions. When the phone lines open, calls come flooding in. In the first season, in 2013, most of the callers were men, even if they were calling about a health concern about their wives. Many young men had questions about misconceptions around masturbation and wet dreams. At first, some took it for a ‘sex show’. Pretty soon, callers realized the show’s intent –that this was an open and safe space to talk about all issues of sexual and reproductive health, but really not the place to get voyeuristic kicks.
By Season 2, we started getting more women callers, often prompted by their husbands. Given their reluctance to talk about their reproductive health issues even to relatives, and the isolation that often confronts many migrant women workers, talking to a reassuring doctor on radio without sharing a name or location, was an attractive alternative. Very often, the anchor would direct the caller to the ANM in Mullahera village, or a specific doctor at Civil Hospital, Gurgaon, or even the Head of Psychiatry at the government hospital. After all, not every problem is biological.
In May 2015, Gurgaon Ki Awaaz launched Season 3 of Chahat Chowk. As in the previous seasons, issues emerged after extensive formative research within our target community in Mullahera village. Some of the issues still remain – wanting to know more about contraceptive methods, needing answers about conception, hygiene and poor nutrition. What has changed is the number of women calling in. After two years of consistently broadcasting the weekly program, women from across Gurgaon now call in regularly to ask the doctor their questions. As men and women hear women on radio, it encourages men to get their partner to call into the program, and women to step outside their prison of silence without having to leave the safety and privacy of their room. The ubiquitous access to a mobile phone, low call costs, and free to air FM broadcast over community radio, makes the program accessible to even the most disadvantaged members of our community.
There was a time, in 2013, when some disgruntled listeners would call in and complain, “Is this anything to broadcast on our radio? Kitna ashleel hai (How immodest). We can’t listen to this program with our mothers and daughters.”
In 2015, we now have listeners calling and saying, “Ever since I’ve been listening to your program, I’ve started talking to my children about adolescence and their changing bodies. My wife listens to the program at home. I listen to the program at work. In the evening, when the kids are asleep, she’ll ask, “Did you hear Rina’s story today? How awful, no?”and that prompted me to ask, “Have you ever felt that way? That you feel you don’t ask for what you want?”
These are the conversations that we want Chahat Chowk humming with.
The Story of Rina
Rina* is a 35-year-old migrant woman from Uttar Pradesh living in Mullahera village in Gurgaon. With a slight frame that looks older than she is, Rina has five daughters, the oldest is 14 and the youngest is 5 years old. Her husband is a driver with Maruti. Rina has medically terminated (aborted) three pregnancies because they were girls. Despite the physical and emotional trauma of terminating pregnancies, Rina’s mother-in-law would not permit her to get a tubectomy. After her fifth daughter was born, and her third abortion was done, Rina couldn’t take it any more. In desperation she went away to her brother’s home in Bihar, and with his help, got a tubectomy done. Sitting in her room in Mullahera that serves as home for the 7 family members (and more when in-laws come visiting), Rina starts crying when she thinks of the stigma she has faced for giving birth to only daughters. “People tell me that it is ‘paap’ (a sin) to kill my unborn daughters. Did I want to kill them? Did I not give birth to five girls? Do you think I did not feel sad at what was done?”
Pic Source: Gurgaon Ki Awaaz Samudayik Radio