Finally, the mystery of the clogged drains across India appears to be solved with the news that all it took was 4,000 condoms to choke the new sewage pipes at the Commonwealth Games village. While the plumbers on drain duty remain tightlipped on whether the rubbers were used or trashed unused like the thousands of valid tickets to the Games, the buzz online is phenomenal.
Search for "Commonwealth Games Village condoms" and you'll get 294,000 hits, far more than the 4,000 condoms Delhi government claims were snapped up. The hits are also far higher than those of Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (OC) Chairman Suresh Kalmadi referring to Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, as Princess Diana (19,200 hits).
Even Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell applauded the rubber uptake as "a very positive story". "Athletes are being responsible. We all know that encouraging safe sex is a very important thing to do," he said. Providing free condoms to athletes and delegates is a tradition started at the Barcelona Olympics 1992, with Beijing Olympics 2008 and Vancouver Winter Olympics in February this year providing 1 lakh free condoms to all participants.
Sporting events apart, governments have been promoting latex the world over. In July, Washington DC residents saw big ads on buses promoting female condoms. In March, the UK's Department of Health launched a £5.2 million campaign encouraging women to carry condoms with ads offering risque advice on how to persuade men to use them. Suggestions such as "Let's get you ready for the ride of your life", said one, while another read, "If you make it clean, I'll make it dirty".
In India, apart from the small hiccup in the form of Sushma Swaraj's objection to India's condom-centric AIDS-programme way back in 2003, rubbers have been part of Health Ministry campaigns for HIV prevention, population stabilisation and reducing sexually-transmitted-disease risk. Two years ago, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) even ran a two-year mass media project that used popular mass media such as films, online games, mobile advertising and downloads to make condom use popular among the young.
Numbers confirm the rising popularity of latex in India. Under the Centre's Condom Social Marketing programme, R2.45 billion (R24.5 crore) condoms were distributed during 2009-10, compared to R1.90 billion in India in 2009 through commercial sales, social distribution (at subsidised prices) and free distribution. Added to this are millions marketed by private companies, and you'll be left wondering whether these condoms are being used at all.
The government is certainly pulling out all stops. NACO's new R75-crore plan targets to promote condom use by inundating the country with 480 million packs by July 2011 through 5 lakh grocery stores, petrol pumps and dhabas along with instant noodles and a cola across 26 states and UTs.
Three lakh traditional outlets, such as chemists and dispensaries, will continue selling subsidised condoms – socially-marketed condoms starting at R5 for a pack of three – to 80 crore people. Hopefully, these condoms will serve a purpose they were meant to before being flushed down the toilet to give grief to municipal workers. Blogosphere, of course, will reverberate with glee at the news of the latex problem threatening the Commonwealth Games.