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Time to expose, analyse: Sr. Joan


KERALA IS now witnessing a conspicuous increase in HIV infections and alcoholic addiction according to Dr. Sr. Joan Chungapura, the first person to set up a de-addiction centre in the State way back in the 1970s. There is not only a marked increase in the consumption of alcohol but a distinct preference for Indian-made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). Addiction has become a social pattern here, with youth just into the 20s turning addicts. "When I started de-addiction counselling the majority of the addicts who sought my help were in the 30s. Now they are far younger. These youngsters turn addicts due to the pressures of competition, frustration, joblessness, and poor family relationship in the dual-job, TV-addicted family system. Kerala is emerging like the United States, with no social support system," she says.

Sr. Joan has been in the field of de-addiction for decades, working among tribal women and Dalits, trying to empower them and equip them with leadership qualities. She has counselling centres in Kottayam and Ernakulam areas and also imparts value education. Admitting that the children are in a crisis today she blamed the parents and the competitive exam system for their stress, increasing depression and also suicides. She also educates teachers on how to handle this expanding crisis.

She has been in the forefront of the campaign to remove prejudice against HIV, which is also on the increase in the State. " There are 268 HIV positive cases recorded in Kerala. It could be much more. This is next only to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Mumbai. And more housewives, especially the below-40 group, are being tested HIV positive. This is because women are ignorant about the realities of life due to lack of exposure. Transmission is through blood, and homosexual behaviour. Kerala has now become phobic about HIV, as proved by the Benson-Bensy cases," Sister Joan says.

Most of those infected by HIV are from the 18 to 28 age group. This is possibly because of gang behaviour, tendency to experiment, and the existence of an exclusive cult. "There is no healthy communication or social interaction now. People are restless, they suffer from inferiority complex, they experiment in sexuality without observing sexual hygiene or sexual health," she continues, attributing this to the absence of the concept of marital counselling or family counselling.

According to her, children garner information either from the media or the peers, without parental guidance. Most of the time the information they absorb is wrong. "Sex is becoming a recreation, much like the U.S. It is not procreational or relationship-based," she feels.

According to Sr. Joan a Thiruvananthapuram study had revealed that men seek sex workers even after their retirement because wives deny them sexual gratification, reflexively abstaining from sex or becoming disinterested in sex after their menopause. "Human beings need love and sex and the absence of it makes them stray in order to gratify their physical and emotional needs. The emotional realm is still a dark area, yet untouched by sociologists," she observes.

Sr. Joan classifies sexuality into five groups - Social (club bonhomie), which means talking to women, which should be encouraged. "I don't mean gossip but social discussions," she clarifies. "There is emotional sexuality which does not mean sex but a deeper relationship of sharing at work, while eating, etc. The third is physical sex. Sexuality should be creative. There is the philosophical and intellectual sexuality, which translates into talking about different intellectual subjects. There is also spiritual sexuality, like women frequenting temples or making offerings, which is also another dimension of sex. Husbands should desist from making fun of them. Husbands may tend to be not ritualistic but human beings need faith," she says.

Analysing human behaviour she says that families are complex. "Once women have two children they call quits to sex. They exhibit no creativity or dynamism in sexuality. This existential difference spawns frustration in men, leading them to stray and getting infected with HIV if they go to sex workers," she said.

Men are also prone to paranoia, suspicion, jealousy, impotence, morbidity, violence, aggression, and withdrawal, which are also facets of sexuality. And it is in this context that Sr.Joan advises control and a critical examination of sexual deviation.

She believes that this negative culture can be transformed if a conscious effort is made. But these are still dark areas which society prefers to curtain, than expose or analyse. Investing a pariah status on people who dare to dwell on such issues.

LEELA MENON

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