What was probably India's only Condom Bar has shut shop. A concept that had generated international curiousity, it has fallen a victim to official prudishness.
The bar, located in the Kalagram complex on the busy Chandigarh-Panchkula highway, was inaugurated by a woman AIDS patient in May 2007. It was launched with a lot of hype by the Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation (CITCO), a semi-government corporation.
In less than three years after it made national and international headlines for the unique concept, the condom theme has been dumped by CITCO officials, though the bar drinking area continues at the Kalagram complex.
Instead of condoms, the theme will now be a village.
"We are changing the concept of the bar to a village theme. The earlier bar continues to be there but the condom concept is being replaced. The requirement arose after a crafts fair was organised at Kalagram recently," CITCO managing director D.K. Tiwari told IANS.
Sources in CITCO, however, revealed that the management and the Chandigarh administration officials were "too embarassed" with the condom theme and hence got it removed.
The bar was the brainchild of senior Punjab-cadre IAS officer Jasbir Singh Bir, who was then managing director of CITCO. When it was launched, it was decorated with real condoms in different colours and varieties dotting the wall amid the liquor bottles. Now, the condoms at the bar have been removed along with all souvenirs that were initially put up to go with the condom theme.
An upset Bir told IANS: "I feel sad that the unique condom concept has been taken off. This is a regressive step. When the condom bar opened, we had enquiries from all over the world as other countries and local authorities wanted to replicate the concept in their cities. The concept was appreciated by the union health ministry, UN organizations and international media."
Besides having souvenirs like cups, T-shirts and caps highlighting the use of condoms and safe sex, the bar even had a counter that offered free condoms. Even female condoms were freely offered at the bar.
When it was being opened, several senior officers of the Chandigarh administration, had reportedly tried to scuttle the condom bar concept. None of the top officials came for the inaugugation.
Pooja Thakur, a woman in her late 20s with AIDS, had her moment of being a celebrity when she inaugurated the country's first condom bar in May 2007.
Thakur, who has two sons, one of whom is HIV positive, had discovered she has AIDS when her husband died in 2005 due to the disease.
"We at CITCO thought this was one social cause that we could be attached with. There were some apprehensions earlier, but the whole concept came out beautifully," Bir said.
The Condom Bar hit a high within four months of its launch. Liquor sales combined with distribution of free condoms were on the rise - making it a successful venture despite initial apprehensions. People coming to the bar started picking the free condoms, and even the paid condoms. Though not in big numbers, female condoms were also being taken away from the bar by women.
While 465 condoms, including six female condoms, were picked up by people visiting the place in the first month (May 2007), the figure rose to 873 in June, nearly doubled to 1,394 in July and hit a high of about 2,200 in August that year.
A condom vending machine was also installed in the washroom of the condom bar for paid pickings. Sales at the bar increased too after the condom bar opened.
However, CITCO did not pay much attention to the condom bar after Bir was transferred from his post of managing director in 2008. The vending machine would rarely have condoms nor were free condoms available.
CITCO is a semi-government corporation to promote tourism in the union territory of Chandigarh. It runs three of the biggest hotels in the city - Mountview (5-star), Shivalikview and Parkview - besides some of the other prime eateries at the Sukhna Lake, Leisure Valley and Kalagram complex.