Wednesday, May 11, 2005

'Cleansing' sex in Africa in danger from AIDS

I don’t know which of the two is worse – women being raped in the biggest and richest cities of India in 2005 (different instances cited here, here and here) or the continuing practice of widows being forced to have sex with an in-law soon after their husbands die in Africa, again in this day and age.

On the first topic, though I have much to say (a police constable is the accused in one instance – welcome to law in India, though I am not generalizing here), I do not trust myself to elaborate without getting overly emotional. Perhaps I need more blogging/writing experience, so I will stick to voicing my opinions on the second topic. However Amit Varma’s views capture the issue well here and here.

The article on Africa in the New York Times profiles the backward tradition of widows having to have sex with an in-law, ostensibly to exorcise the evil spirits that will otherwise pervade the widow and the village. The rising incidence of HIV has now made political and tribal leaders sit up and take notice, citing this practice as a reason for 25 million sub-Saharan Africans being infected with the virus. Yet, change, as in any part of the world, will take time. In a village in Malawi, the headman still endorses the tradition, saying, “We cannot abandon this because it has been for generations.” In fact, some areas even use the services of one of several appointed village ‘cleansers’, selected by a headman as in one case, “ for his sexual prowess after he had impregnated three wives in quick succession”. Jokes are made about the ‘difficult’ job he has.

What then of the widows, who are made to go through the practice without their consent – practically describing them, as the New York Times reporter who investigated the issue says, as rape?

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