- Around 355 million Indian females must find ways to deal with monthly menstrual hygiene. Most of these women have no access to toilets and many face unclean lavatory facilities. Even, in many areas, women usually wait until nighttime to use public toilets or fields, which exposes them to the danger of physical abuse.
- The majority of womenfolk in rural India employ clothes and rags for womanly sanitation. Such stuff might predispose ladies to reproductive tract infections for it seems difficult for them to keep their used napkins clean and infection-free. Lack of water and private facilities, and added cultural taboos associated with menstruation, make it further difficult to wash reusable female products with soap and to dry them in sunlight.
- While commercially available sanitary napkins provide a possible alternative, only 12 percent of Indian women can afford this option.
- Even in this era, talking about menstruation is considered as vulgar in India. So the consequences are bound to follow like leaving young girls ignorant about its nature and procedures to follow during the period.
In 1998, Arunachalam Muruganantham, a common man from Tamil Nadu, got shocked to know that his wife used old rags to deal with menstruation because she couldn’t afford sanitary pads. On learning this, Muruganantham decided to produce her sanitary pads himself. This led him to invent the low-cost sanitary pad-making machine. His mini-machines can produce sanitary pads for a much cheaper cost than that of commercial pads. The machines have been installed in 23 of the 29 states of India. Muruganantham is currently planning to go global with his device.
Muruganantham was born in 1962 to an impoverished family. His parents were handloom weavers in the South Indian region of Coimbatore. Muruganantham found himself in poverty from the very beginning of his life. After the death of his father in a road accident, his mother supported his schooling by working as a farm laborer. However, it did not go much to the effect and, by the age of 14, he got dropped out of school. After that, he started working at various places. He used to supply food to factory workers and tried his hand at different jobs as machine tool operator, selling agent, farm laborer, welder, and the likes to support his family.
Shortly after his marriage in 1998, Murugananthan discovered his wife collecting dirty rags and papers to use during her periods for sanitary napkins made by multinational companies were expensive. Disturbed by this, he started designing experimental pads. At first, he used cotton to make pads, but his wife and sisters rejected these. However, they stopped co-operating with him and refused to be the test subjects for his periods. During the initial phase of his pad-making, Murugan realized that the raw materials for the production of a sanitary pad cost much cheaper than for the selling price. He looked for ladies volunteers who would test his inventive pad. But in a country where menstruation is still an unmentionable topic, most of the ladies were too shy to discuss the issue with him. After seeing no further option, Muruganantham started testing it on himself using a bladder with animal blood. As was bound to follow, it made him a subject of absolute mockery when the “sanitary pad” was discovered in his community. As menstruation is a forbidden subject in India, it left him a person who was detested by his community and family too.
However, resolute in his mission, Muruganantham did not give in to any negativity he received. He distributed his produce free of cost to girls in a local medical college, with the condition that they would return them to him after use to analyze his invention. It took him a couple of years to learn that the pads companies used cellulose fibers derived from the pine bark wood pulp. The fibers helped the pad absorb while retaining its shape. Imported machines that made the pads cost millions. So, he set up an economical device that could be operated with least training. He got the supply of the processed pine wood pulp from a source in Mumbai, and the machines would mill, de-fibrate, press and sanitize the pads under ultraviolet before packaging them for sale. The device costs around 65,000 rupees.
When he visited IIT Madras in 2006, to show his idea and to get suggestions, they got his invention registered for the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award. Much to known his wonder, he won the award. Afterward, Muruganantham obtained seed funding and founded Jayaashree Industries, which now sells these machines to rural women across India. The machine has been widely appreciated for its effortlessness and cost-effectiveness, and his commitment to the social cause has earned him several accolades as well. Despite offers from several corporate houses, Muruganantham has refused to commercialize his project and continues to provide these machines to self-help groups run by women.
Muruganantham’s invention is seen as a crucial step in changing women’s lives in India. His machine creates jobs and income for a number of women, and affordable pads enable many more women to use them during menstruation. In addition to his outreach, his effort has also motivated other entrepreneurs to enter this arena, and the inception of innovative ideas like to use waste banana fiber or bamboo for the purpose.
His spectacular success has made Muruganantham a well known social entrepreneur. He has addressed audiences at many prestigious institutions including IIT Bombay, IIM Ahmedabad and Bangalore and Harvard too. He has also appeared in TED talk. His story, titled ‘Menstrual Man’, has already been shown in the prize-winning documentary by Amit Virmani. A Bollywood film on his life, titled ‘Pad Man’, is also under production. The film is directed by R. Balki, with Akshay Kumar playing the role of Arunachalam Muruganantham. His name has been featured in TIME magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in the World, 2014. Muruganantham has also been honored with Padma Shri by the Government of India.