My experience buying condoms and an i-pill at a chemist in Mumbai

Team member Anup is tackling "A Month of Challenges". Every day for 30 days, Anup pursues challenges that grow him emotionally, intellectually, and creatively, pushing him outside his comfort zone. A few days ago, Anup reflected on an experience buying condoms and an i-pill to explore stigmas around women's health in his community. Here is his reflection, translated: 

By: Anup Chaurasiya

My name is Anup Chaurasiya. I’m 21 years old and live in Dharavi in Mumbai, one of the biggest slums in Asia. I lead operations for my non-profit, The Hero Lab. As a creative learning challenge, I decided to visit a medical store near my area to buy a condom and an i-pill (contraceptive) and document people reactions to an issue which is a big health problem in India.

So I went to the nearest chemist shop and asked him for a pack of condoms. 4-5 people were in the shop and a couple of them heard me. Along with the shopkeeper, they looked at me questionably. He found the packet and handed it over to me. I asked for a bill.

He looked at me even more questionably and said, “We don’t give bills for condoms”.

I asked, “Why?”

He replied back with an air of frustration, “Have you ever got a bill anywhere else?”

I said, “I’ve never asked for one before.”

I thought about taking a photo of the shop just for reference. But seeing him stare at me, I decided against and left, smiling about his reaction.

I then moved along to Sion Chemist where I asked for an i-pill. There were 3-4 helpers in the shop. I went to the oldest one and asked for an i-pill. He shouted at someone to get an i-pill and requested me to handover Rs.100.  I did that and left. There was nothing weird or different about this experience.

I grew up in a very conservative and closed minded community where we never taught sex education and preconceived notions and beliefs dominate better decision making. This challenge excited me because it helped push me out of comfort zone and face up to a problem many youth have to experience. While the accessibility of such resources has helped reduce the spread of sexually transmitted disease, the stigma associated with buying condoms, as revealed in the shopkeeper’s reaction in the earlier case prevents youth from buying them. I find it very hard to imaging a girl stepping into a shop and buying an i-pill for herself because she always be labeled as something negative and dishonorable from that moment on.

I’m sure my friends, father and brother understand this though my mother doesn’t. I’ll never be comfortable talking to her about this. In a close knit community like mine, no one will ever openly talk about these issues which is not right. The best way to educate people and facilitate easier access is by talking to them individually and helping them feel safe and protected.

I hope more youth can experience this and learn from it to facilitate a new generation of open minded thinkers.