Sunny Leone is being berated for being the face of a condom ad that asks people to ‘play safe’ during Navratri. It seems we would live with spiking abortion rates after festivities but not safe sex, especially if Sunny is giving the message.
There are a few celebs who are famous for being famous. Sunny Leone belongs to the rare category that can cause outrage because she is Sunny Leone. If, on a whim, you find 10 people who were part of various anti-Sunny Leone protests in the recent past and ask them why they were frothing at the mouth, they will have to paraphrase Edmund Hillary and say, “Because she is there.” The former adult star may have come a long way and is today a de facto Bollywood actor, an entrepreneur and a face that launches many products (among them a brand of condoms) but India does not believe in letting go of the past. When they see Sunny Leone’s face on a condom poster, they don’t see yet another brand ambassador but they see Sunny, a woman to be fantasized and pilloried in equal measures. You can safely blame it on India’s inherent hypocrisy and misogyny. What is not so safe is Gujarat’s track record during Navratri. So, the reason behind the latest round of protest against Sunny has been caused by a condom ad, with her face on it, which asks people to play it with love during Navratri. Its exact words are: “Play this Navratri, but with love [Aa Navratriye ramo, paraantu prem thi]”. You would think that the concept of safe sex, even if it comes via a condom ad, should be welcome.
In 2000, former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel – then women and child welfare minister – had infamously said that number of abortions rise in the state a couple of months after Navratri. She came to hate her comments later. It took a few years but after concerted effort, the state managed to buck the trend by turning Navratri celebrations into huge sex education classrooms. What has not changed is the state giving up its largely conservative image for nine days of pleasure. The 2017 survey called India Uncovered, conducted by That’s Personal, an Indian start-up that sells adult products, is proof. The survey dubs Maharashtra the most sexually active state in India, followed by Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. However, come Navratri and Gujarat ranks third on this list. The survey also says how the sale of condoms and various sex products go up in the state. Far from emphasising the sexual liberalisation in India, this is an evidence of its lack. And that is how the traders in the state like it. In a letter written to Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, the Confederation of All India Traders said, “This is a clear irresponsible and immature attempt to boost sales by putting all our cultural value system at stake.” Talking about Sunny Leone, the letter says, “… its brand ambassador Ms Sunny Leone is ample testimony of the fact that in the lust of earning huge money, these Brand Ambassadors can go to any level irrespective of pious and religious occasion of Navratri even.”
According to Jaswant Patel, chairman of the Federation of Gujarat State Chemists and Druggists Associations, the sale of condoms go up by at least 30 per cent during the festive season. Talking to BBC about the trend he has seen in the past decade, he said, “Condoms are sold not just at chemists and general stores, they are stocked at even corner shops that sell paan (betel leaf) and most of the buyers there are teenagers and college students.”
So, in this scenario, what are they protesting – is it sex, sex during Navratri or is it safe sex but with Sunny Leone promoting it? It seems we would need detectives to find answer to that one, coincidentally another Navratri trend wherein parents of high-on-hormone youngsters try to keep a lid on their desires by hiring private rates. From what we hear, it doesn’t work so well. Condoms have a much better success rate. Sex education would do even better.