The man who busts menstrual myths

May 26, 2014, 10:21 IST | Kanika Sharma

Three questions with Arunachalam Muruganantam, Inventor of low cost sanitary napkin machine

Q. How did you get to know about periods in the first place?
A. Getting to know about periods was a gloomy thing for me. I was born with two younger sisters. We had an attached toilet with no roof at the back of our home. I had no idea what my younger sisters did at the back when they dried the cloth pieces. It was only when I got married and at the age of 26 that I got to know why my wife had a nasty cloth in her hand. Many Indian men go from being fathers to grandfathers and great grandfathers, and still don’t know what their partners go through. In my village, there is a temple where I would go. When I used to see three women approaching and two staying out, I thought they had their periods on Mondays. It was only later that I got to know that they are monthly.

A Muruganantam is a school dropout from Tamil Nadu who resolved to make low cost sanitary napkins

Q. What was your profession before this? Why has producing a low-cost sanitary napkin been such an important project?
A. I was a welder before. When I got to know that my wife was using a cloth and said that she can’t afford a sanitary napkin, I decided to gift her a packet. When I went to the local medical shop, he wrapped it in a newspaper, giving it almost as if we were smuggling it. I wanted to know what was inside as it hardly weighed 10 gm and was made out of cotton. Being the son of a handloom weaver, I knew it would hardly cost 10p and here it was being sold for '6. So, I decided to make one for my wife and now, for the whole country. There have been various challenges; especially being neglected by society, but I never wanted to give up. At that point, I used to donate blood. One day when I went to Chennai, the family that needed my blood gave me '200 and four apples. I was in such need of money that it was like selling my blood to keep it going.

Q. In your words, ‘You are one of the few men who has worn and admitted to wearing a sanitary napkin in the world’. How was it?
A. I was 28 years old when I wore the sanitary napkin because no one was giving me feedback. I wore it for 15 days and used to squeeze goat blood from the bladder that was tied around my waist. Because of the wetness and the temperature difference between a man and a woman’s body, I got fever. Since then, I salute all women for going through this monthly. When I meet people, especially from the West, who manufacture napkins, I ask them ‘Do you know what it is to wear it?’

Screening of Menstrual Man by Amit Virmani
On May 27, 6.30 pm onwards
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Napkin talk
Even if this country doesn’t have dams or roads, by empowering women it will have the brightest future. Advertisements talk about comfort but no one talks about hygiene because it is a messy area. The idea is to give employment to millions of rural Indian women. In 60 years of Independence, only 5% of Indian women, excluding metro cities (after which it is 12%), use sanitary napkins. Even if in the next 10 years, we make it to 10% we’ll consider it an achievement.   

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