India’s public broadcaster aims to bust sex taboos with “Condom Baba Ka Dhaba”

Dropping inhibitions.
Dropping inhibitions.
Image: Population Foundation of India
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In India, where talking about sex is taboo, a popular show on the government-owned broadcaster Doordarshan is now trying to normalise discussions on birth control.

The fictional edutainment show Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (I can do anything) is the story of a doctor who gives up her practice in the city to work in rural areas. Her job is to educate people in villages about the importance of family planning and the critical role that men need to play in birth control.

The show highlights the importance of reproductive health and challenges several taboos. For instance, it features “Condom Baba Ka Dhaba,” a fictional meeting place for the characters in the show, where condoms are distributed free of cost.

The 30-minute show airs every Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 pm. Doordarshan has partnered with the non-government organisation, Population Foundation of India, to put together Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and REC Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of Rural Electrification Corporation. The show is produced by Bombay Local Pictures, a Mumbai-based content company.

A new narrative

In its third season, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon challenges the long-established narrative of women singularly bearing the responsibility of birth control.

This is a reflection of the reality in India where most men are reluctant to use contraception. Of all the modern methods of contraception currently available in the country, condoms are the least used, according to the National Family Health Survey-4 published in 2015-16.

“There is a dire need to encourage men to take equal responsibility for family planning. One of the key reasons people refrain from buying condoms is the embarrassment associated with it,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India. ‘Condom Baba Ka Dhaba’ has been imagined as a place to socialise where men can get condoms of their choice. The goal is to normalise its use. This dhaba (restaurant) represents the change we urgently need.”

The first season of the show focused on issues including child marriage, sex selection at birth, and gender discrimination, and the second season put the spotlight on youth and adolescent issues.

“The show has 52 episodes. Being a public broadcaster, airing the show gives us an opportunity to spread a positive message by promoting reproductive health and family planning,” said Supriya Sahu, director general at Doordarshan.

To reach out to more viewers, the show has been dubbed in 13 regional languages such as Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, and Marathi and is aired on Doordarshan’s regional-language channels, too.

Driving engagement

To drive more conversations around sexual and reproductive health, the Population Foundation of India has also created a chatbot SnehAI. The artificial-intelligence-powered chatbot is embedded on the Facebook page of Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon.

“The SnehaI provides a safe, non-judgemental and anonymised space for young people to receive information and share their stories related to sexual and reproductive health,” according to Muttreja.

In the past, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon has inspired people in real life to talk about various social causes, she added. For example, a group of men from Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, who were habitual wife-beaters, now travel from village to village singing ballads asking others to stop mistreating women at home.

The first and second season of the show collectively received 1.7 million calls on its interactive voice response system from viewers across India. Callers shared personal stories talking about change in age-old regressive practices related to child marriage and other social taboos. Of the total calls, 48% were from men.