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India bans condom ads from prime-time TV

NEW DELHI >> India’s government has declared condom commercials “indecent” viewing for children and restricted them to the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., when relatively few people watch TV.

Conservative groups were outraged by recent ads, including one that featured a former porn star undressing piece by piece, and they pressured the government to step in.

But progressive social groups said it was a bad move. India, they argue, desperately needs more condom use, not less.

The country’s population currently stands around 1.3 billion, and within the next decade India is expected to pass China and become the world’s most populous nation. The government has spent huge amounts of money trying to control the meteoric population growth, incentivizing vasectomies and other forms of birth control.

But the rate of condom use is still low — less than 6 percent among those who use contraceptives.

“We need to reach out to more people with more and more advertising, not less,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a private organization. ”Condoms are one of the few methods of birth control which prevent HIV and unwanted pregnancies. And they have no side effects.”

Muttreja said the prime-time ban for condom ads was in “direct contradiction to the population policy of the government.”

On Monday, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued Advisory No. 40011/01/2014-BC-1, now known as the condom ban, saying condom commercials could be “indecent/inappropriate for viewing by children.” Some critics of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party accused it of being motivated less by children’s welfare than by prudishness, pointing to past moves like blocking hundreds of pornographic websites and an effort to eliminate sex education from government schools.

But conservative groups cheered the decision.

“This is India and it has its own culture, and anything related to sex is generally not publicly discussed,” said Bal Krishna Bhartia, president of the Confederation of All India Traders, a business association that started complaining about condom commercials a few months ago.

One of the steamiest ads, for the Manforce condom brand, features Sunny Leone, an Indian-American actress who used to star in pornographic films. The commercial seems to suggest a couple celebrating their wedding night. With sultry music playing in the background, Leone undresses slowly from a huge bed lit with white lights. A man watches, swallows, and then steps into action.

“It is a very romantic ad,” Muttreja said. “What’s wrong with romance?”

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