Indian health workers fear attacks over a family planning kit containing a rubber penis

The western Indian state of Maharashtra’s mission to create family planning awareness among people has sparked dissent. At the centre of the problem lie rubber penises.

These demonstration devices have triggered people, especially the accredited social health activists (ASHAs) assigned with the task of counselling couples.

The ASHAs play a key role in community health programmes across India. Their door-to-door campaigns educate the masses in the hinterland over matters like sex and birth control.

These workers haven’t yet received the kits with the latest contraptions, nor received any training to use them.

They, however, assert that if and when the government forces their hand, their union will rebel. These mostly woman workers are of the opinion that such kits, which also include rubber uteruses, will jeopardise their safety.

ASHAs’ bad experience with condoms

Earlier, they educated people about the benefits of using a condom, but some men had created a ruckus, taunting them and passing “indecent comments.”

“They should ask the healthcare staff at hospitals, instead, to educate people…We have used similar models before but that created a lot of trouble for us,” Suman Pujari, member and general secretary of Maharashtra ASHA union, told Quartz.

“In rural areas, some of these men had even shown up at the homes of ASHA workers, making suggestive gestures and asking all sort of things only to humiliate them in front of their families.”

Government officials did not respond to Quartz’s queries on the matter despite several attempts. Unfazed by the unrest, they reportedly plan to proceed with the new additions to the family planning kit.

So far, around 25,000 of them have been distributed across Maharashtra, according to Dr Archana Patil, director of Maharashtra’s public health department. However, she, too, seems sceptical.

“If health workers feel awkward about talking openly about these issues, how will work get done?” she asked while speaking to the BBC.

Meanwhile, the matter has taken on political colours. Chitra Kishor Wagh, vice-president of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has asked the Maharashtra police to charge the state government for “indecency.”

“Has the government gone mad?” she asked in a series of tweets criticising the family planning kits.

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