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.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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
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