Rural India has many problems that most of us don’t even know about. 90% of the women in India cannot afford sanitary pads to use during their period. They use everything from an old rag to a leaf. This was a problem that needed to be solved immediately. But this is not really something women like to talk about, so no one knew about their problems, much less how to solve them. Mr. Muruganantham came up with an interesting solution to this problem.
But before we get to his idea, we must listen to his story. When his newly-wedded wife, Shanthi, was hiding a dirty rag from him, he stopped her and asked what she was going to do with it, and she replied that she was going to use it as a sanitary napkin. He was shocked and he says that he wouldn’t have even used it to clean his two-wheeler. He asked why not use a normal sanitary pad, and she replied that it would be too expensive and they would have to cut down on their milk. Surprised, he decided to impress her by buying her a sanitary pad. The shopkeeper had carefully wrapped the napkin in newspaper and packed it up for him so that no one who saw it would find out what it was.
And he says that, out of curiosity, he opened the napkin and touched it for the first time. He explains how he began to wonder why something that seemed to be made out of just cotton was that expensive. He had an idea. He thought of making his own sanitary napkin. So he experimented with it and tested it on his wife and sisters. However, they eventually stopped supporting his research. He approached medical college students and gave them napkins for free on the condition that they return them after use for him to study. But they slowly began to feel uncomfortable with it, and stopped taking them from him. So he now had no one to try it on, and he still hadn’t perfected it.
He ended up trying it on himself. He filled a football bladder with animal blood and pumped it frequently. Meanwhile, he had to face many other such problems, such as a divorce notice from his wife. Also, society treated him as an outcast and called him insane. But he still didn’t give up. He finally understood what was wrong with his sanitary napkins.
Napkins made by retail giants consisted of cellulose, which allowed them to remain strong and durable. Machines to produce this cellulose cost millions of dollars. So now he had another obstacle in his way. How would he make napkins without this machine?
He decided to make a simpler version of the same machine. His machine is approximately 500 times cheaper than machines used by sanitary pad companies. His invention is now sold to many all-women self-help groups in India and is available in 106 countries. Thanks to him, many rural women who had never before thought about sanitary napkins can now use them.
Mr. Muruganantham is in the list of 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine and has also been awarded the “Padma Shri”.
A documentary has been made about him by Amit Virmani called “Menstrual Man”. There is also a biopic about him to be released in 2018 called “Padman” starring Akshay Kumar.
Mr. Muruganantham’s goal is to make India a 100% sanitary napkin-using country in his lifetime. Sir, all us proud Indians wish you the best of luck and hope that you achieve your goal.
Author : Kavitha Kannan | Teacher @ BVM International School