Saturday, October 02, 2004

One for the road: Safe sex at the slip of a coin

His mouth remains hidden behind his palms. Yet, a bashful smile manages to break from his grip. “I began to use one about four years ago when I realised how dangerous AIDS can be,” begins Vikram Singh, one of the thousands of truck drivers that pass through Jaipur each day and night. He is talking about condoms. “Earlier, sexual intercourse took place without protection. These days I always have one or two spare ones in the truck,” he adds.

Notching up several hundred miles each week, drivers like Singh, are now in the spotlight as the government finishes installing over a 100 condom vending machines across the city. Seven of these are to be stationed at Transport Nagar, the main hub in the city for nearly 5,000 trucks each day. Often out of homes for several weeks in a row, this group is considered especially vulnerable to contracting and transmitting the HIV virus through the sex workers they come in contact with while on the move.

“Like food, even truck drivers have hunger for sex,” says Gopal Singh Rathore, the General Secretary of the Jaipur Transport Operators Association (JTOA), which is managing the machines in the area. “A condom remains the best protection against AIDS,” he adds. Rathore claims that the two machines installed so far, each with a capacity for 100 packets, have already dispensed around half of their stock. They were inaugurated on Monday this week.

But truck drivers have a different story to tell. While some hide behind claims of chastity, others say that the machines have come late. “Now the sex workers come with condoms and they insist on us wearing them,” says Mahaveer Prasad, another truck driver. “Had these machines come six years before, it would have helped much more,” adds Singh.

Earlier, condoms were generically just known as Nirodh, the pioneering government-sponsored brand. Today, there are more names floating around. “A person who has to buy condoms today will buy it from the shops,” chips in Ashok Kumar Mahto, the JTOA assistant office secretary.

Others have different viewpoints. “Instead of these machines, a subsidised or free camp for HIV testing would have helped much more,” says Jaspal Singh, a former JTOA treasurer. "These machines are part of a sporadic campaign. We need a continuous approach," adds Ram Prakash, the spokesperson of the Rajasthan Truck Transport Union.

Then there are apprehensions that these machines, if not properly attended to, could become another coin-swallowing monster like those numerous yellow telephone boxes.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home