Monday, April 18, 2005

NACO script: Man, woman and "woh"

You want a condom but do not have the guts to ask for one. Ask for woh instead. That is the latest trick out of the hat of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) as it switches to surrogate advertisement to boost condom usage in the country.

A survey by NACO in 2002 had found that the usage of condoms amongst the “target population”, which includes those exposed to a higher risk environment such as sex workers and truck drivers, was 49 per cent. “We would like that to go up to above 90 per cent,” said NS Dharamshaktu, Additional Project Director with NACO, who was here to attend INSAFCON 2005, a national meet on HIV/AIDS that concluded on Sunday. “We are going to use keywords like woh. So, you walk into a store and say, ek woh dena, and not ask for a condom,” he added.

Similarly, there are plans to use dipper for truck drivers instead of condom. The campaign is expected to begin soon but even Dharamshaktu acknowledged that just NACO cannot solve the problem given the stigma attached with a condom. At the meet, ICMR Director General NK Ganguly went on record in public saying he was shy enough not to buy a condom the first time. “Why cannot it be that ladies get a packet of condoms free with some product instead of buckets and soaps,” he asked.

But some feel that promoting condoms just as a tool for protection against sexually transmitted infections will not boost its usage much. “It is not going to happen till you brand it around disease prevention,” said Shivananda Khan, the Chief Executive of Naz Foundation International. “It has to be marketed as something that is fun, something that is driven around pleasure,” he added. Recently, efforts have been made to club the benefit of family planning with condoms and few upmarket brands, such as Kamasutra and Durex, use the “pleasure” tag. Research has even proved that a condom delays ejaculation.

NACO has doubled its condom distribution from 171 million pieces in 2003-2004 to 341 million in 2004-2005 and the focus is on gradually reducing the number of condoms distributed for free and increasing the number sold at nominal costs. “Even if one pays 25 paise for a condom, there are greater chances that he will use it than if he were to get it for free,” said IB Sareen, a consultant with NACO. The percentage of condoms sold under NACO’s schemes has increased from 30 per cent in 2003-04 to 50 per cent in 2004-05, he informed.

Beyond that comes the issue of addressing gender inequity in sexual relationships, said Bobby Ramakant, the South Asia Coordinator for AIDS Care Watch. “How many women do you think are empowered enough to demand that her male sexual partner puts on a condom and how many can actually refuse sex without protection,” he asked

One of my reports for Hindustan Times

Arab-Persian divide turns violent in Ahvaz

From The Daily Star

The predominantly Arab city of Ahvaz in Iran was calm Sunday, with anti-riot police cruising the streets after two days of violent demonstrations. At least one demonstrator died and eight others were wounded in the protests, sparked by rumors that Tehran planned to decrease the proportion of Arabs in the oil-rich area near the Iraqi border.

Police patrols cruised Ahvaz's neighborhoods Sunday and guarded the city's banks. Shops were open although the streets were largely empty, with vehicles of anti-riot troops lining the streets, residents said.

"Security is tight in two or three neighborhoods," said Hadi Yunesi, a local journalist. "But the city is calm, shops are open and life has returned to normal."

The fracas started Friday after hundreds of Arab residents of Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, gathered to chant slogans against an alleged government plan to move more non-Arabs into the city.

The protests turned violent as people set fire to banks and police stations. Police made more than 250 arrests.

Iran's official IRNA news agency said a forged letter calling for a plan to relocate non-Arabs to the city to make them the majority population had started the fighting, which it said was limited to Ahvaz.

A local official said the letter was attributed to former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi and dated from when he ran President Mohammad Khatami's office.

But Abtahi denied on his Web site that he was behind the letter, which reportedly said that "Arabs must emigrate, Arab names of towns and villages must become Persian [in Khuzestan]."

"Good friends have told me that people are trying to provoke ethnic violence in the province," Abtahi said on the Web site, adding that neither he nor anyone else had the power to change the ethnic composition of an area.

Al-Jazeera television said the London-based Popular Democratic Front of Ahvazi Arabs in Iran had called for demonstrations in the area "to mark 80 years of Iranian occupation."

Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told the student news agency ISNA that "the president has asked supreme national security council and the ministry of intelligence to pursue the case and to hand over those behind the publishing of a forged letter to the justice."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Iran looks at CNN to promote its tourist potential!

From The Daily Star

Iran, which long castigated the United States as the "Great Satan," is to promote its tourist potential on America's CNN television station and Britain's BBC, the country's vice president for tourism Hossein Marachi has revealed to AFP.

Tense relations between Tehran and Washington will not stop Iran from exploiting its attractions on the U.S. cable network, said Marachi, who insists U.S. sanctions preventing American companies from trading with Iran "will not apply in this instance."

Both BBC and CNN campaigns should start within two months under a one-year contract, the value of which Marachi did not disclose. Kevin Young, acting head of public relations for BBC World, said: "There have been long discussions about this and we're optimistic the campaign will be launched but it's not been finalised yet." He added that no actual starting date had been decided and the ads would only be shown on the state-funded broadcaster's semi-commercial BBC World.

"We would be looking at what we call a spot campaign, which is a straightforward commercial campaign for 30- or 60-second adverts that would appear for a period of six months." Spokesman Nigel Pritchard for CNN international in Atlanta said only: "We can't comment on commercial deals unless they are in place. There is no deal in place." Marachi said Iran would provide footage for the slots. They will show Iranian tourist sites. "You'll not see Friday prayers," he added with a smile.

Tehran's aim is not to persuade Americans to visit the country, but to have an impact on the two networks' worldwide audiences so Iran can develop an industry, largely neglected given its potential.

Global network campaigns will be followed by ads on local channels in 20 countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians living in the United States "will also be targeted and we will try to reach them via Iranian satellite channels" although American audiences are not currently a priority.

"The United States will be targeted later," he said. However, said Marachi, "counter revolutionary" channels controlled by Iranian exiles, mostly broadcast from Los Angeles, will not be asked to show the ads.

According to Marachi, fewer than 500 Americans visit Iran every year. "We don't have a policy aimed at drawing American tourists, we don't give them visas easily," he said. Americans entering Iran are fingerprinted, following Washington's decision to do the same with Iranian citizens entering the U.S.

The Iranian visa application process is also complex and drawn out, as it is for Iranians wanting to visit the U.S. Iran, which has an impressive but under-exploited array of cultural sites, wants to raise its current one million foreign visitors annually to 20 million in 20 years' time, said Marachi.

At three times the size of France, Iran is home to such exceptional sites as the ancient capital of Persepolis, the Islamic architectural showcase of Isfahan and the desert city of Yazd.

The Islamic republic also offers a range of landscapes, from the forests of the Caspian Sea to the shores of the Gulf, passing by the central deserts and the Alborz mountain range, popular with Iranian and foreign skiers alike.

But the country suffers more from a lack of hotels and shortcomings in its transport system than from years of isolation since the 1979 Islamic Revolution or from its image abroad as defying the international community over its nuclear program and making foreign women wear headscarves, said Marachi.

"We will invest $30 billion over the next five years" to eliminate the deficiencies, he said. Marachi nevertheless acknowledges that tourists will have to comply with local customs and visiting women should keep their hair covered. "Tourism in Iran currently brings in $500 million a year and the aim is to reach $25 billion in 20 years' time," he said.

"From now on, foreign tourists can get a one-week visa on arrival at Tehran airport and this visa can be renewed once. In a month's time, you will be able to get a tourist visa over the Internet," said Marachi.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

It's Sehwag's doosra

A doosra-like move by Rajasthan Cooperative Dairy Federation (RCDF) to use Virender Sehwag’s double to endorse its Saras brand seems to have backfired. The recent campaign may have hoodwinked most customers but not Collage Sports, the agency that manages Sehwag’s product endorsements. It is not amused by this stunt and has threatened to follow it up with RCDF.

“It could be one of those silly campaigns seeking cheap visibility featuring Sehwag. We will send someone to Jaipur to speak to Saras and find out more about this campaign,” said Adhiraaj Singh, the firm’s GM (Marketing), from New Delhi. This is the second instance of an advertising controversy centred on Sehwag within this week. The cricketer, through Collage Sports, had earlier shot off a letter on April 3 to Pepsi demanding an apology for having used a voice – similar to Sehwag’s – that is smacked shut by Shahrukh Khan in their ongoing Oye Bubbly campaign. The move was termed as “unethical and illegal” by the firm.

RCDF, on its part, maintained it had not committed any legal blunder because the ad does not, in any way, hint at Sehwag. “Neither have we used the team’s logo on the helmet nor have we shown the bat that he uses to play,” said Hira Lal, the GM (Marketing) at RCDF. The hoardings, which have sprung up at various prominent locations in the city, feature a close-up of Jeevan Sharma, the double, in a cricketing helmet with the words Saras and “Keeps You Fit” emblazoned on them.

Sharma from Thane, who refers to himself as “Junior Sehwag”, was in town on April 19 when the campaign was shot. But it was released about two days back in tune with the rising cricket frenzy because of the current Indo-Pak ODI series. This is Sharma’s first ad campaign that plays on his remarkable likeness to the cricketer.

Meanwhile, the guilt has set in here. “Morally I feel it should not have been done. We are, in fact, pulling it down in a day or two,” Lal said. He maintained that the decision to remove them was independent of Sehwag’s notice to Pepsi and that it was conceived to be a “weeklong campaign”. RCDF had earlier thought of roping in the cricketer for supporting their brand but opted out of it because of the high cost involved.

Alok Sharma, who is an advocate at the Rajasthan High Court, said Sehwag would be well within his rights if he takes action against Saras over this issue. “The personality of a person is his or her property. Any move to derive commercial benefit out of that without the person’s permission is illegal,” he said.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The antithesis to Samuel P Huntington

As the first lady to be elected to head an Islamic state in 1988 and having been groomed at the University of Oxford, Benazir Bhutto stands as a classic antithesis to Samuel Huntington’s much-propped theory of Islam being incompatible with the west and democracy. “But unfortunately the Cold War created alliances with dictators that allowed them to use religion as a tool to oppress and suppress women, the minorities and political dissent,” she said in an interview to Hindustan Times on Saturday.

Bhutto, who is currently under a self-imposed exile in Dubai after her government was dismissed in 1996 for alleged graft and misrule, acknowledged that she is a “privately religious person” but that the “state should not interfere with the religious values of an individual”. “Islam stands for emancipation from bondage and I am happy to see that the struggle to establish the rule of law is finally succeeding,” she added, citing the recent elections in Iraq and the “Cedar Revolution” in Beirut where Lebanese people voiced their dissent against the continued presence of Syrian troops in their country.

Rights are never given, she maintained, but achieved. Not surprisingly, Bhutto has been critical of the way the junta has handled Pakistan. “The political system put in place by the military establishment has failed to address the reform issue,” she said, referring to Mukhtar Mai who was raped in 2002, allegedly on the orders of a tribal council as retribution for a crime attributed to her brother.

The four people accused of the crime were acquitted on March 15 this year, stunning human rights groups and sparking country-wide protests. Following a national and international media outcry, the two were rearrested after a public order from the Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s PM. “Does that mean the rapists would be freed once again when international attention fades away from the case,” she asked.

Having spent time at City Palace and with Gayatri Devi on Saturday, Bhutto remarked that Jaipur resembles “interior Sindh”. “Somehow the sand, the buildings, the roads here remind me of Sindh,” she said, calling for greater transport links between Rajasthan and Sindh, which, she informed, has a significant number of Hindu temples. “People from India should be able to travel to them or the churches and gurudwaras in Punjab,” the premier added.

Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, returns to Pakistan on April 16, after being freed in December last year from his eight-year incarceration, to cheer up the PPP workers and to lobby for general elections to be held in 2005. Despite increased contact with Musharraf and his establishment, Bhutto said the idea of working under or with him was still a “speculation”. “I haven’t thought about it but what I can say is that I am a democrat, that I am a believer in democracy and that I believe in the supremacy of the will of the people,” she said.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times