When it comes to sex, sexual health and nuances around the same, there is a dearth of concrete conversations in India. Those who draft education policies also don’t seem to be serious about introducing sex education in institutions, and allowing for spaces where students can freely ask questions and have discussions.
As a result, it fell upon others to take up the mantle to spread awareness about sexual health in their own ways. One such platform is Delhi University’s student-led publication, DU Beat, which runs a sex-advice column called ‘Sex Amma’ that answers queries on sexual health sent in by readers.
While the answers themselves are fairly informative, it is the author’s voice that gives one reason to pause. ‘Sex Amma’, as you guessed it, is modelled on what appears to be a token South Indian character straight out of a blockbuster Bollywood film
Many of you, my cute maachis have written to me on how scared you are to cook sambhar with your medu vadas because of the popular yet unverified statements associated with the cooking of sambhar and conceiving… Your pregnancy via fingering depends on what your medu vada has got on his fingers…
This is an excerpt from ‘Sex Amma on Pregnancy: Conceptions & Misconceptions‘, and it is one among many pieces that compare human genitalia with breakfast dishes commonly had in South Indian households. For instance, in another column, the author writes,
“Your handsome medu vada tries to touch it while cooking up the delicious meal of sambhar for my idli.”
Sambhar is a vegetable gravy often consumed with idli, vada or dosa, but it is used – as shown above – as connotations for sex and partners. The misplaced usage of the words does nothing but misinform and confuse readers. To see the prestigious independent newspaper badly appropriate South Indian entire culture and its cuisine is disappointing. These remarks reflect the general atmosphere of our society where second-rate ‘Madrasi’ jokes are casually tossed around.
Sure, the column was kickstarted in 2008 during very different times, but in 2021 it is plain tone deaf to continue with such typecasting. DU Beat, which openly calls out toxic museum culture and Lana Del Rey’s contemplations, must also look at their own culturally inappropriate columns.
Even though sex education remains a woefully absent concept in our society, a column that intends to bring such conversations into the common discourse should not do so at the cost of stereotyping an entire community. Where ‘Sex Amma’ fails is simply not the language, but in mistranslating DU Beat‘s positive intention by orchestrating a cultural murder of sorts.
Even the illustration of ‘Sex Amma’, who is depicted as a half-nude middle-aged woman with a curvy body, is problematic. It plays into the popular imagination of a sex educator, and only serves to further alienate the concept of sex education.
What was the need to have ‘Sex Amma’ talk in so-called ‘South Indian’ language? Why the disgraceful fetishisation and misreading of immediately associative cultural elements like language and cuisine? The misreading of language and cultural imagery works against ‘Sex Amma’. Although the effort to educate is appreciated, one must do better and go beyond such stereotypes.
Amal Mathew, is a communication major from Bangalore, and an active street photographer. He tweets @freddie5aturn.
Featured image credit: DU beat website