A reality game show and family planning? Sounds like an odd combination, but not in the dusty lanes of Aligarh, where an unlikely blend of both cuts through the apparent chaos. Even as residents battle a serious lack of civic amenities, there are those like Zafaruddin, 27, a daily-wage labourer, who are crusaders of another sort. Until six months ago, few knew the reclusive father of four from Bhujpura. But today, Zafaruddin is called a “role model”—ever since he won the Happy Dampatti (Happy Couples) contest, a reality show targeted at low-income couples in Aligarh’s slums. He won because he is one of the first men from his community in the city to have opted for male sterilisation; many others have followed his lead. In predominantly Muslim societies such as this one, sterilisation, especially of men, is still taboo. But for Zafaruddin, religion mattered little at the time. “All I could think was: ‘I need a quick, permanent solution to family planning.’ With rising prices, I can’t afford to have any more children. If only I had known about male sterilisation earlier! But I learnt about it at a Happy Dampatti camp and I instantly got it done,” he says.
How does Happy Dampatti work? Modelled on the popular television show Indian Idol and cleverly tweaked to appeal to slum dwellers, the contest has seen many stereotypes take a backseat. Young couples are invited to enter the contest, interviewed on camera and asked to share personal stories about using contraceptive methods. Based on the interviews, their confidence levels and awareness of family planning, the couples are judged by a panel of experts. What has made Happy Dampatti immensely popular among Aligarh couples is that this is no regular “awareness drive”. It targets family planning not by sermonising, but by plucking role models from within the community, where too many are unaware of modern contraceptive methods, and a family having six to eight children is the norm.
The enthusiastic, if surprising, response to Happy Dampatti is really what has set the ball rolling here. “Nearly 3000 couples participated, 200 interviewed, parts of which were aired on local television and radio channels, in effect, reaching out to a population of six lakh. The fact that people are able to see their own neighbours on air, talking about the contraceptive methods they use, being open about subjects that were considered taboo, has been inspiring for others,” explains Dalbir Singh, technical officer at Urban Health Initiative (UHI), the organisation that launched Happy Dampatti, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The effects, happily, are already beginning to show.
Mohammed Shakeel and Kehkashan have three kids.
At Kehkashan and Mohammed Shakeel’s home, in a slum cluster called Jeevangarh in Aligarh, talking about sex and contraceptive methods is no hush-hush affair. Kehkashan, 25, a mother of three with a jovial way about her, and Shakeel, 28, her bashful husband, are thrilled that their regular condom use has won them a place among the 35 winning couples of Happy Dampatti. They received a shiny new fridge, and oodles of confidence. “I was hesitant at first: how would I talk about condoms on camera? But when I saw so many other couples out there, also speaking about all this on camera, I let go and spoke freely,” recalls Kehkashan.
There is, indeed, a palpable sense of liberation that is livening up the community. A rare openness to bedroom chatter, a new confidence in being able to control and plan their lives. It isn’t just Happy Dampatti, but an infectious atmosphere that’s catching everyone’s fancy. Meet feisty Anisha (she likes to go by her first name), a peer educator from Jeevangarh, who goes door to door getting groups of women together. “I use board games, like a tweaked version of Snakes and Ladders that has been adapted to family planning, to bust myths that many women have. I create an environment where women talk openly with each other about their sex lives and contraceptive methods. Mehndi competitions, for example, work really well to create an easy bond,” she explains. Also essential to beating old stigmas is clearing the air on sterilisation. Condoms are the most popular contraceptive here, but to encourage safer and permanent techniques, local imams are brought in to explain that having a surgical procedure is in no way disrespectful to Islam, points out Dalbir Singh.
Thus far, in seven clusters covering over more than 200 slums, thanks to UHI's collective efforts, including Happy Dampatti, 2,047 women and 310 men have opted for sterilisation. Nearly 3,800 have had intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUD) implanted, while injectible contraception (DMPA) has found 2,242 takers. That is a huge jump in a place where the primary concerns are no spousal interaction, low awareness levels about family planning, and little bedroom talk. But now, family planning is becoming a talking point: between couples, among friends, and even at family gatherings. “I have two girls and we don’t want any more children. So I started taking oral contraceptive pills. Now, my wife and I can have sex whenever we want. No tension!” exclaims Brijgopal Sharma, 29, a shop owner. “The buzz around the reality show in the neighbourhood gave me a chance to talk about it with my friends, eight of whom have followed my lead and adopted various family planning methods,” he adds. Chand Tara, 25, and her husband Parvez, 30, on their part, were relieved when their decision to opt for female sterilisation after the birth of their second child recently found support from both sets of parents. “The education levels are low, plus there is rampant misconception that getting an operation done is against our religion. But I don’t believe it. My neighbour and sisters-in-law have opted for an operation as well, inspired by me! People have certainly started thinking more about family planning now,” says Chand Tara.
That’s true. Examples of couples who have modern contraceptive terms on their fingertips and women finally being able to talk openly about practical sexual concerns are plenty. In Aligarh, they are the real reality television stars. Without the glitter, but abounding in promise.
Jan 16, 2012: Edited after posting. A slightly edited version of this piece appeared in print.
Apropos of Not Just Pillow Talk (Jan 23), the success of the Happy Dampatti initiative in Aligarh’s slums is a slap in the face of our leaders who have, for some 40 years now, been pursuing a “hands-off-mouth-shut” policy with regard to family planning.
Manish Anand, Delhi
Now that this show has got publicity, controversy will not be too far away. Soon, some religious leader will issue a fatwa, Digvigay Singh et al will back it, and it will collapse.
Vithgoon, London, UK
Unless ordinary Muslims start taking decisions for themselves, they will never do well. Next, they must push their MPs and mlas for good schools. There is no substitute for a good education.
Happy Dampatti dhanyawad!
Now that this news has got publicity, controversy is not very far. Soon some religious leader will issue Fatwa, Diggy & co will back it , some will oppose it etc & this program will collapse
The success of the Happy Dampatti initiative in the slums of Aligarh is a slap in the face of our leaders in New Delhi who for some forty years now have been pursuing a "hands off", "mouth shut" policy in regard to family planning, treating it as a "taboo" area. Yet, alarmed that the country could no longer afford any increases in its population figures, our intelligentsia as well as non-sarkari economists have for long been clamouring for the government to seriously promote voluntary family planning programmes based on monetary or non-monetary incentives. Tragically, our leaders have remained deaf to all these calls for action. Hopefully, they would have to answer to posterity for their blinkered judgement .
This was a very good begining. Unless the ordinary muslims start taking decisions themselves,they will never cross the poverty lines. Next they must push their children, and their MP and MLA,whoever they are, to put good schools in their area. Muslims must educate themselves at all cost.
If anybody wishes to pray to GOD,he can pray even in an open field. He does not need a mosque for that. But he must have a school where he can learn things which he needs for a better life. They should vote only those parties who help them to educate their children. Only then they will get better jobs.
A million mutinees now
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT