A girl recently wrote about her embarrassing experience at a shop in Bangalore. She picked up pads from the store and headed to the cash counter. The billing was done, cash was paid, but the man at the counter had some tasks to complete. He was searching for black plastic bag to pack the pads as if to hide something. Being in a hurry, she lost her temper and yelled, “You are not packing any bombs or bullets. Those are just pads. Please hurry up…” People around her stared at her. Many were heard whispering. If such scenes are witnessed in urban centers, what to speak of rural India.
Here comes the relevance of the movie PADMAN which makes an eloquent effort to break the menstruation taboo; it treads an untrodden path to bring to the public realm what was hitherto a hidden topic. Through the biopic movie of Arunachalam Muruganantham, actor Akshay Kumar throws light on the unhygienic use of waste clothes and other items during periods. In fact, his passion to provide his wife with a cheap and yet safe sanitary napkin made him an admirable entrepreneur. To prove that affordable pads are feasible, he moves around distributing pads among village women for better menstrual hygiene, even in the face of resistance from his wife.
It is an irony that in a country, which wants to propel itself to the club of super powers, only 12% of 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins and the remaining 88% resort to shocking alternatives like unsanitized cloth. There are a few reasons for women’s unwillingness to come out of the cocoon of old practices: one, lack of awareness; two, reluctance to break with traditions; and three, non-availability of affordable sanitary napkins. A country which spends close to three lakh crores on Defence budget is hesitant to support women in defending their body against unhygienic practices. The country where condoms are distributed free through various outlets imposes a GST of 12 per cent on sanitary napkins.
Recently, the Delhi High Court asked the government why sanitary napkins are not exempt from the Goods and Services Tax when bindis, sindoor, kajal and puja items are kept out of its ambit. Sanitary napkin is not a luxury item, but a necessity. Incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) are 70% more common among women who do not use sanitary napkins. There is merit in the argument that t axing women for a biological process they have no control over is like taxing women for who they are.
The crux of the problem is to accept the reality of menstruation as any other function of the body which women need not be ashamed of and not to be kept under wraps. A woman is bound to go through certain changes during these days and men should understand her situation and be gentle and supportive during these days. One cannot wish away a reality with whispers. There is truth in feminists’ view: menstruation is everyone’s issue, not just women’s. If so, the government too has a role to play here.(Published on 26th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 09)