We all know the first person who landed on the moon. We also know the first person to climb Mount Everest, but do we know about the first man to wear sanitary pads made for women?
Yes, it is our honor to talk to Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham, founder of newinventions.in. He fought against the beliefs and presumptions of his family, wife, mother, society and even his own mindset to invent cheap yet useful sanitary pads for poor, rural women. This is an example of true grit and perseverance, where an individual takes up a problem, makes it his own in order to find a solution to it. Here is what Mr. Muruganantham had to say.
In his own words:
The whole idea started back in 1994, when I saw my wife wrapping something and going out while hiding the wrapper behind her. When I asked her, she said it is none of your business. When confronted she told me it’s a rag for women hygiene. I realized that the same rag is used by my sister too and the sanitary pad is too expensive for them.
I went to the market and bought a sanitary pad, it was wrapped in a paper as if it was a smuggling product that was given to me. I was shocked to see this so I opened the paper to actually see what is in there that my family can’t afford.
It was a small cotton roll.
Can’t we afford this cotton roll? Was my question.
But the bigger question was that we men have no idea about sanitary pads. Women hygiene has become a taboo here. People who sell these pads are men, who have no idea about it. We have no idea about it. I saw a pad for the first time at the age of 29. Over 99% of Indian men have no idea about the pads. Only 2% of women can access pads.
So, I decided to gift my wife a pad that is accessible and affordable. Hence, I decided to make sanitary pads by myself as I thought it is just a few grams of cotton.
I designed my small cotton handmade pads, but now the problem was where to test. I need women to test. So I went to a temple in my village where every Friday women come together for prayer. I was rejected there many times and got a bad name in the village. However, some women accepted the pads but the feedback was negative.
So, I tried more designs and different kinds of cotton. Now I could not go to the temple and my own sister and wife too rejected it. I tried to reach girls at nearby medical college thinking that they are medical students, so they must be progressive women who would support me. The college was 40 KM from the work station. These girls hesitated to say this is not comfortable. Finally, I decided to test the production myself.
I took a football tube and filled it with animal blood and tied it around my body. It was uncomfortable. I was smelling bad and wet. Stains around my body and my clothes were putting weird doubts in my neighborhood. I was a joke for all. Some even said I have become a demon.
I got a divorce notice from my wife as she predicted I have some illicit relations with college girls. I was deserted by my family, but it did not stop me.
I realized that the liquid flow is not stopping in my pads, it is still leaking, and so instead of trying what I am making lets’ see what is actually working in the market. I went to medical students again and asked them to just give me the used sanitary pads. I told them that they would anyway throw them so why not throw at a particular place and I would collect them together. It was an easy solution and they agreed.
I worked on these napkins and for 2 years. I tested them in IIT Madras to finally find the cotton that I can actually use. By that time even my mother had left me. She thought that I have extreme sexual desires and some vampire resides in my body. The team at IIT worked with me to finally come with a machine that could produce the sanitary pads with pinewood.
The struggle of my life has finally given me the product I desired for so long. I decided to not make the profit out of this but help the rural Indian women to come out of the taboo. I do not go for money and hence set up an NGO and we compete against Multinationals and Transnational.
This half educated person got into news and today I share my story everywhere to make sure that in my lifetime Indian women end the taboo of menstruation and us as a society take it just as a bodily process. I want every woman to use hygienic pads and not rugs, cloth, sand, sticks etc.
Our organization, New Invention is not a manufacturer but is more like a change maker. We are changing the mentality of the Indian masses as a whole. We are making people aware of menstruation and at the same time promoting women empowerment by establishing our machines in self-help groups. Women can produce pads by themselves and sell in their self-help groups. We are present in over 23 states in India, and sell pads at prices that are very low as compared to Multinational sanitary pad manufacturers.
50% of the country population is suffering and we are calling ourselves developing. I will call India developing when we account for each individual. Women empowerment is our goal today and we would work on this. Even in developed nations, I have seen people not open up about menstruation. Men are hardly having any information while women are hardly sharing it.
New Invention today is not just a manufacturer but a hope for women. Our model is appreciated in different nations and today we sell our machines to self-help groups in different countries. Let’s remove the barrier between men and women for equal growth and a prosperous world.
Today I am happy to see my millions of sisters walking comfortably all year, without any fear and shame. My wife has again joined me, and my family is supporting me in my endeavors. I thank all the teams from IIT Madras and those unknown volunteers of the medical college.
“Be a solution provider” – Arunachalam Muruganantham