Last updated on March 22nd, 2023 at 11:59 am
Pad Man is a 2018 Indian Hindi biopic movie on Arunachalam Muruganantham who invented the machine to provide sanitary pads. It is one of my favourites, and of the education genre. It is undeniably true to admit that politics and films are the two most discussed domains of the middle-class citizen. Whether you are someone from Bangladesh or the Indian subcontinent or Europe politics and pictures dominate our fun part.
As a means of entertainment, films always play a very critical role along with sports and so. A film can not only be a means of amusement; it undoubtedly can be a way of learning something good, like I do every time I watch any movie. A film can be a voice for the voiceless, a proposition and premise for advocating democracy, justice, human value, social malice and national sentiment. Pad Man is an example of many.
“America has Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Ant-man, Ironman, X-men, Rain Man and Birdman, but India has Pad Man”,says Amitabh Bachchan in his cameo appearance in the film. Cast by Akshay Kumar as Lakshmikant Chauhan and Radhika Apte as Gayatri, the film was originally based on a short story ‘The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land’ of Akshay Kumar’s wife Twinkle Khanna’s book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad which contains four stories inspired by a Tamil Nadu based social position.
The actress, columnist, social activist and women advocate Twinkle Khanna wrote the story inspired by Arunachalam Muruganantham who was also a social reformer in Tamil Nadu, India. Known as the “menstrual man,” Arunachalam revolutionized feminine hygiene by designing a machine to make low-cost sanitary napkins and successfully marketing these napkins to rural women across the country.
As the story of the Padman is about menstrual health, it unfolds with a middle-class man, Lakshmikant Chauhan. With a younger sister, wife, and an elderly mother, Lakshmi Chauhan is an ironsmith by profession. His wife’s preference for going back to the traditional but unhealthy, use of old -rags and unhygienic garments during her menstruation did not bode well in his sentiment.
He lovingly encounters Gayatri, his wife. But, she does it just like other millions of women from impoverished financial positions, especially from the remote part of the country.
Lakshmi Chauhan first brings her a pack of cotton from the nearby dispensary but she prefers the traditional way of using rags. Later, he buys a sanitary pad for 55 rupees which was quite a chunk of his income with which he meets daily family needs. Gayatri never likes the idea of opting for such an expensive product.
In spite of her husband’s strong insistence, she still won’t use the pad and made him return it instead which Lakshmikant was never able to return to the dispensary due to their non-refund policy.
He had to carry the pad inside his shirt and eventually was able to get rid of it by offering it to an injured worker in order to stop bleeding. But he wasn’t able to get rid of the thought of his wife’s menstrual-related possible health risk.
Therefore, buying some cotton he tried to make a pad for his wife that he tried wearing before he gave it to her. She would not still accept it.
He was stigmatized and put to public shame and ordered to desert his family and the village just because he tried to convince a newly married woman to use his passionately designed sanitary pad and was red-handed by the mother-in-law of the woman while he was whispering to her. This put his married life in danger and Gayatri had been taken to her parent’s house.
With his dream to make women’s menstrual health safer, he continued developing the idea of providing the sanitary pad with a minimal price. Collecting all the necessary components of a sanitary pads, his journey of producing them by manually made machine began in a remote community. But no woman is ready to buy it both either for using it goes against traditional norms or it’s a social taboo.
Being helped by Lakshmikant with a Pad in her emergency of needing a pad, Pari Wailia stretch her hand to his cause and promoted the product door to door by reaching to the female students of the educational institutions. She was a success in selling and convincing women to buy the pads.
Along with another sheltered woman, who often got bitten by her husband and first to buy Lakshmi’s Pad, Pari helped him sell pads in the whole area. Many financially destitute women chose to take selling pads as their profession. As his enterprise expanded, he chose to name the pad after Pari’s name, Pari Sanitary Pad.
What to Consider
A circulated report in Time of India in January 2011 gives a gory picture of the menstrual health of India of the day. It says of 355 million of menstruating only 12% use a sanitary napkin while the rest 88% of the women resort to a shocking and unhygienic alternative like unsanitized cloth, ashes and husk sand. Incidences of Reproductive Tract Infection or RTI are common among 70% of women. Inadequate protection of menstrual health forces adolescent girls of 12-18 year of age to miss school 50 days a year on average.
The biggest obstacle to menstrual health is affordability, according to the report, around 70% of women in India cannot afford to buy a pad. And 80% of women in Bangladesh do not use sanitary napkins considering affordability leading to an absence in work and miss school. Menstrual Hygienic Management (MHM) is right for every woman and girl.
An incidence of lack of MHM was reported in an English daily in Bangladesh. Reportedly, a nine-grader female student died of fainting in the classroom. Consequently, a snakelet was found in her uterus in the autopsy. Snakelet ended up in her uterus from a damp cloth that she used during her menstruation and most of the time the used clothes are not washed properly.
A similar incidence was published in Assam, India in April 2017. An 18 years old girls name G. Talukdar died on April 23 after being infected by the parasite which was found in her stomach later. She complained of severe stomach ache with abnormal swelling.
Later that evening she was taken to the hospital where she breathed her last. After the examination the doctors found out the cause of pain and swelling of the stomach that it was because of the parasite inside her system, it happened due to the unhygienic use of cloth for absorbent propose during her menstruation.
There are thousands of unreported stories like Talukdar out there. Girls and women are being suffered for ages for the lack of proper menstrual sanitation. For many women talking about menstruation is forbidden while it is considered to be an act of sin by many men as well. Many still bury the used cloth underground for the fear of incurring evil spirits and are not allowed to join family functions, and temples.
Menstruation is still a taboo in many societies, it is not part of a polite discussion, is which is responsible for women’s morbidity. The idea and perception towards women’s menstruation is controlled and regulated by the religio-cultural convention. It prevents women from expressing their menstrual needs. It is often ridiculed. In the past menstruation was considered evil, impure, and unholy. Menstruated women were untouchable and separated from their families until are healed. They would have been thrown outside or forced to stay in a separate room. Though these extremities have changed, there are still hurdles regarding menstruation and menstrual health.
Rural women, as well as some urban women, either do have the courage to buy sanitary pads or lack the money for men consider it a matter of shame while many women do not earn. The old and unsafe method is the only refuge.
Due to high prices and lack of awareness, 80% of women do not use sanitary napkins. Even though the Bangladesh government wavered VAT on sanitary pads, good quality pads still cost about TK 12. More than Tk 100 for the best one that controls 65% of the napkin market in Bangladesh.
WHO states that “Social well-being, as part of menstrual health, requires that individuals are free to choose to participate in civil, cultural, economic, social, and political life without restrictions or exclusions related to their menstrual cycle.” A range of disorders of the menstrual cycle has significant implications for physical, mental, and social well-being. ICDDRB estimates that 40% of menstruating girls in Bangladesh regularly miss three days of school a month.
The article under Menstrual health: a definition for policy, practice, and research by WHO defines “Menstrual health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle. Achieving menstrual health implies that women, girls, and all other people who experience a menstrual cycle, throughout their life course, are able to: access accurate, timely, age-appropriate information about the menstrual cycle, menstruation, and changes experienced throughout the life course, as well as related self-care and hygiene practices, etc.”
While the sanitised sanitary pad is essential for safer menstrual health, it’s also undeniably true that the Pad must come at an affordable price. Only then our mothers and sister are safe from disease and menstrual health right is given.
Having said that Pad Man’s objective is to create awareness about menstrual health while it also telling us that there is no alternative to affordable pads if we want to ensure the menstrual health of our women. It can be done only if the Government intervenes and take the required steps.
Pari Wailia helped Lakshmikant to attend a Scientific Innovation Completion with his invention of the Pad machine. Although he was not the winner on the competition, he was rather given a presidential award which helped him in reaching a broader section of women in the community. Subsequently, the UN for Women -TeD Talk -invited him to the USA to deliver a speech on his invention.
In closing of Pad Man, we see the obvious human behaviour: Pari developed a feeling for him but Lakshmikant’s promise to his wife remains unbroken. However, taking everything into consideration Pad Man is really a film that talks about women’s dilemma in handling and maintaining their menstrual health. It’s indeed a voice for women and their right to reproductive health.