Bangera and team chanted slogans outside a temple in Upvan, Thane as part of the Maasika Mahotsav
Bangera and team chanted slogans outside a temple in Upvan, Thane as part of the Maasika Mahotsav

Even as the world over, the movement towards lifting the taboo associated with menstruation gains steam, closer home in Mumbai, both individuals and organisations appear to be doing significant work towards that end. While the hashtag rebellion on social media continues to gather numbers, off-line too, innovative ideas and activities are being undertaken to counter period shaming and spread awareness about menstrual health and hygiene. While NGOs with ample financial muscle and social clout have been doing their bit for years, there are a handful of smaller establishments that have been instrumental in bringing in significant changes in behaviour and attitudes of people towards menstruation.

Nishant Bangera
Nishant Bangera

As World Menstrual Health and Hygiene Awareness Day kicks in today, Mumbai, too is joining in the celebrations. Nishant Bangera is instrumental in organising the city’s first festival that celebrates periods. Titled Maasika Mahotsav, the event has been organised by Muse, an NGO that Bangera founded when he was 20. "The core philosophy of our work revolves around changing mindsets and menstruation is one part of it. That programme is called A Period of Sharing," says the 25-year-old. The programme is two-pronged — one aspect promotes sustainable menstrual methods, while the other works towards lifting taboo. "The idea of the festival is to lift the taboo and it is happening on a national level, Uttarakhand and Gujarat being the other centres." Last Sunday, when the festival started, Bangera along with group of 30 on bicycles, rode to a temple in Upvan Thane. The group comprising mostly males, aged between 11 and 45, parked outside the temple, chanting the slogan "Hip Hip Period". "It’s important to involve more men as it’s largely because of them, the taboo exists, if you think of it. If they are able to have a more open conversation about this with their families and friends, that will change the society’s behaviour to a large extent," Bangera says, adding that they met with no resistance from the temple authorities. Today, they have organised a cultural programme in Thane as part of the Maasika Mahotsav. "We went to the slums in Thane and invited the families. These are homes where the taboo actually exists. Members of the BMC will be attending the function too," Bangera adds.

Cover of Puberty Poverty and Gender
Cover of Puberty Poverty and Gender 

A Santacruz based NGO, Vacha Charitable Trust, has been working with women from 17 slums in city, spread across Malad, Andheri, Dombivali, Santacruz and Kalyan. The programme involves nearly 500 girls. Recently, the NGO brought out a book titled Menstruation, Poverty and Gender, published in Hindi, English and Marathi. Yagna Parmar, project coordinator, says, "It was part of a pilot research project conducted by our team. We gave the girls cameras to capture of photos of their lives during their period — the social ouster, the embarrassment at home. Sometimes, they don’t even dry the cloths in the open. The cover photo is particularly moving — you see the cloth pads stuffed in a nook in a broken wall." Speaking of behavioural impact of the programmes, Parmar, 35, says, "It’s a slow process, and we need to approach it rather delicately. The key is to make them not just know more about their bodies but also learn to love their bodies, and not feel ashamed or embarrassed by it. We notice a marked increase in self-esteem often, sometimes they even dare to go to temples during their period, something that we encourage. But of course, they still need to keep it a secret from their parents."

The Saral Design machine manufactures 15,000 sanitary pads a day
The Saral Design machine manufactures 15,000 sanitary pads a day

Twenty-seven-year-old Suhani Mohan co-founded Saral Designs two years ago, when during one of her meetings with Anshul Jain, the founder of the NGO, Goonj based in Delhi, she realised that 80 per cent women in the country were still using husk, paper, rags and other unhygienic products instead of sanitary pads. "Due to high cost of pads, girls were dropping out of schools to save themselves the embarrassment of stains, during their periods," Mohan says. An engineering graduate, she and her team went on to create the world’s first automated machine that manufactures ultra-thin pads. "It’s a 10-by- 15-feet machine that manufactures around 15,000 pads a day, thereby minimising the cost of production. The quality matches multi-national standards, but are marketed at half the price." The pads are available online and are also distributed across 80 villages in Maharashtra and 60 medical shops in tier-two towns in the state.