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Remembering Dr. Watsa, India’s First Celebrity Sexpert

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Written by Avni Gupta

One relies on adults and institutions like schools and colleges to provide the very-much necessary sex education. In India, however, the two apparently reliable sources have failed us at many levels. In this scenario, the youth ends up educating themselves through means like social media, pornographic websites, and the most ‘foolproof’ of all – peers.

In this time of hush-hush conversations, Indians saw a beam of light: Mumbai Mirror’s Ask the Sexpert column. Residing in Mumbai or not, the column has reached every corner of the country through social media. The man behind this quirky column was none other than Dr. Mahinder Watsa. Sadly, at 96-years of age, the sexpert passed away on December 28, 2020.

Pratisandhi remembers Dr. Watsa for enlightening the country’s youth on sex education. His contribution to the field is commendable and cannot be stressed enough. Over the years, he has managed to develop a cult following with his hilarious, yet informative responses.

Source: BBC

A Life-long Mission

Dr. Watsa began his journey by writing a column called Dear Doctor in a women’s magazine, Trends. On receiving numerous letters from distressed young women, he realized the lack of sexual education that prevails in our country. Women wrote to him – confessing they would commit suicide, worried about the wedding night, what would they do if their husbands found out they’re not virgins, and so on.

Soon, he set on a life-long mission to provide sex education to the youth of the country. In 1974, Dr. Watsa began working as a medical affairs consultant for the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI). He proposed the idea of initiating sexual counseling and education program in the organization – which led to the setting up of India’s first sex-ed, counseling, and therapy center.

Later, Dr. Watsa achieved the mission through his very own organization, the Council of Sex Education and Parenthood International (CSEPI). Currently, the organization is affiliated to the World Association for Sexual Health. Over the years, CSEPI has become the foremost Sexual Health Organization in India, with over 600 fellows and members. The Council brings about the training of health care professionals by conducting an annual National Conference in the domain of human sexuality. By this, it aims to promote sexual health and awareness amongst the Indian population.

Source: DNA India

Asking the Sexpert

In 2005, Dr. Watsa began writing for the famous newspaper column Ask the Sexpert. During his years as a columnist, he managed to answer more than 20,000 queries by commoners about sex. Not just teenagers, even adults, who never received an opportunity, were introduced to the world of having open conversations. A survey on letters sent to the column was conducted by Dr. Suchitra Dalvie – revealing a lack of sex education even amongst well-educated citizens living in urban areas of the country.

In the last few decades, sex education in India has seen improvement on a textual basis – schools have introduced the topic in their curriculum. Surprisingly, children are neither encouraged nor engaged in frank conversations. School teachers often choose to skip the chapter talking about human reproduction.

Dr. Mahinder Watsa preferred talking about sex in an easy and witty matter, rather than taking the usual medical and serious tone. Answers written by him were not crammed with medical jargon. His approach to answering sex-related queries was simple: he talked in a language that readers would enjoy and also learn from.

Audiences from all spheres – be it rural or urban – were addressed through his column. His crisp one-liners often managed to leave the readers giggling. Ask the Sexpert posed a perfect combination of pragmatism, scientific facts, psychological support, non-judgemental space, and humor. With this extremely significant work, he aimed to inspire and strike healthy conversations regarding sex and sexual well-being.

A series of humorous QnA is curated by Homegrown: We Illustrated The Best Of Dr. Mahinder Watsa’s ‘Ask The Sexpert’ Column – laden with quirky illustrations, it is a must-read.

Credit: Homegrown. in

A feature-length documentary titled Ask the Sexpert was released on Netflix, in 2017. Filmmaker Vaishali Sinha filmed the sexologist for several years – capturing his journey of imparting sex education and bringing about a change in society. In a recent Bollywood film, ‘Made in China’, actor Boman Irani portrayed the role of a sexologist facing the issue of acceptance in the country. This character was heavily inspired by Dr. Mahinder Watsa and his contributions.

In times where the word ‘sex’ is burdened with loads of taboo, his initiative has left quite an impact on us. As preachers of sex education in the country, we are undoubtedly following in his footsteps. Organizations like Pratisandhi are addressing many myths and misconceptions about sex – just like Dr. Watsa. In his very own words “Every generation has these questions – somebody has to answer them.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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