Some thought he was possessed, some thought he was just being a pervert when he started questioning young women about sanitary pads. But Arunachalam Muruganantham did all this in his quest to make cheap sanitary napkins for his wife, which, eventually, went on to revolutionise menstrual health for rural women around the globe.
Muruganantham, who hails from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, says he still has miles to go in his mission “to make menstrual hygiene accessible and affordable for everyone”.
“It all started for my wife (Shanthi) and now it has gone global and become a revolution. I am very glad and happy with where my mission has reached,” Muruganantham told IANS in an email interview from Coimbatore.
“People have definitely changed. More people are having open conversations about sanitary hygiene… 20 years ago no one dared to speak about it. Today, taboos have been broken. But India is not made up of metros alone. We have 600,000 villages and the awareness level is low. We have miles to go in our mission to make menstrual hygiene accessible and affordable for everyone,” he added.
Muruganantham believes everyone can be a Pad Man.
“And that is why I feel it is my responsibility to create more Pad Men,” he added.
Muruganantham did not embark on this journey to get acclaim or fame, but to ensure his wife doesn’t resort to unhygienic ways like cotton, ash or rag cloth during ‘that’ time of the month.
A school dropout, Muruganantham nearly lost his family, his money and respect in society. People started avoiding him, he was subjected to taunts from the people from his own neighbourhood, and some even thought he had contracted a sexual disease. In fact, his wife also left him due to his craze to create affordable sanitary napkins.
“What kept me going was my desire to provide a hygiene product for my wife. Also, I have worked for an engineering firm and I know for a fact that even if I fail 9999 times, I know if I change the angle of the blade, I might succeed tomorrow,” he said while recalling his journey.
What was the most difficult thing to crack in his endeavour?
“The most difficult thing is changing people’s mindset. No man ever died of poverty; everything is because of ignorance. To break the age-old taboos and to see girls and women use pads was a difficult task,” he said.
Flash forward to the present, he runs a company in Coimbatore to supply women with sanitary pads, provides technology for his low-cost hygiene products to several countries, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014, and was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2016.
His story found its way into Bollywood in a more dramatised way through “Pad Man”, with actor Akshay Kumar driving the project with his star power.
Directed by R Balki, “Pad Man” is based on a short story from Twinkle Khanna’s book “The Legend Of Lakshmi Prasad”.
The film has opened a wider dialogue on menstrual hygiene.