Sometimes, big changes in society are caused by very small triggers, particularly of the technological variety. It has been argued that the
horseshoe changed the geopolitical balance in mediaeval Europe by allowing the horses of one army to cover greater ground without tiring, the pill ushered in an era where women regained control over their sexuality and the printing press vastly diminished the power of the Church by allowing people direct access to the Bible without the intervention of middlemen. Perhaps, in India we will see similar changes being ushered in by something as small as the i-pill, the emergency contraceptive pill that has been introduced recently in India as an over-the-counter drug available without a prescription.
Like most compelling technologies, the i-pill too delivers undeniable utility accompanied with consequences that are not immediately apparent. It has the power to prevent unwanted pregnancies, if taken up to 72 hours after the act, and carries few side-effects, if reports are to be believed. This is close to magic and no wonder it is doing extremely well in India.
Unlike the pill, which arguably fuelled the idea of women's liberation in the sixties, and has been available in India for a very long time without having a noticeably dramatic impact, there is something about the i-pill that makes it particularly significant in the Indian context. The pill is useful for sexually active women for it needs to be taken every day. The i-pill, on the other hand, works retrospectively, and is ideal for initiates and experimenters. The i-pill is packaged forgiveness, an eraser of mistakes, a restorer of things as they were. It is a spur to experimentation as it smooths over the last hurdle when things begin to go too far. With the i-pill, you can return however far you end up going.
Given the nature of the Indian reality, where sex is still a throaty promise or a clumsy fumble, this pill provides a pathway to experimentation paved with the retrospective guarantee of status quo. With this life jacket at hand, swimming can be learnt at the deep end of the pool. Of course, the chances of abuse of this pill are very high, with the possibility that it gets consumed casually and becomes a substitute for protection.
In many ways, the i-pill contains within it some dominant themes of our time. The name itself is revelatory, echoing as it does the world inhabited by cool personal devices like the i-pod. The i-centric nature of this world where experiences are customized around an individual and where her pleasure determines everything she consumes is underlined here too. The i-pill is part of a long line of technological innovations that are waging a war against the unintended.
The i-pod allows us to skip songs we don't like, and create playlists of our choice. Google has just introduced an edit feature in its searches, which allows the user to permanently banish unintended results from showing up. The digital camera allows us to erase pictures that we don't like and the Tivo allows us to see our favourite TV shows without the pesky commercials. In a similar way, the i-pill rebels against the unintended by aligning pregnancy to intent.
The other theme that the i-pill connects to is the detachment of action from consequences. In India in particular, we grew up in a world full of terrible consequences. Every action was laced with the possibility of dire consequences and none more so than sexual looseness, of the slightest kind. We lived in a world where there were no second chances-hence the anxiety around school admissions, board examinations and train departures. Missing an opportunity or taking a wrong turn was seen as an irreversible setback. Progress, therefore, for us is freedom from the fear of consequences. The i-pill allows for spontaneous action in the knowledge that no permanent consequences will ensue.
The ability to reverse time, to press the rewind button on life is a luxury craved for by us today. The need to act as our hearts desire, without the annoying considerations of what might happen as a result is at the heart of what we call progress. The i-pill accelerates the culture of gratification in a very physical way and in doing so is poised to change in a fundamental way, sexual behaviour in India. It is not necessary that India follows the trajectory of the West in terms of sexual norms especially when it comes to openness about the subject, but after decades of relatively little change in sexual behaviour in India, it now has a technology that it can use and perhaps abuse to bring about far-reaching change in this area.