Rapes and deaths aren’t as uncommon as we’d like to think. Newspapers are covered with these stories. However, it was a shocker when I read about an 18-year-old Nepali girl who died while menstruating. Now, one might think that it was merely a health complication that led to this unfortunate incident. But what if I were to tell you that the menstruating girl died of a snake bite while she was banished to a shed?
Although it seems fabricated, this banishment is a part of long-banned ancient Hindu practice where menstruating women are viewed as impure. The scenario in India isn’t all that different. Whilst we don’t really push our women into sheds, the topic is still a taboo and women of all ages are subjected to social, religious and cultural restrictions. As much as I’d like this post to be a rant about the issues revolving around barbaric restrictions imposed on women, it isn’t.
Not many people talk about it because menstruation or ‘periods’ is considered a taboo. Young girls and many women hailing from rural areas, or even the ones living in the economically backward areas of metro cities are not educated about the hygiene that needs to be maintained during their monthlies. The lack of knowledge is why many females resort to using cloths or leaves (yes, it happens) instead of sanitary napkins. Another reason is that these napkins which are a necessity are expensive. The price of pads ranges from 24 rupees to 94 rupees, depending on the brand and the type.
The people in the back who are going to argue should know that sanitary napkins will be taxed at 12% and at the same time condoms have been placed in the 0% slab. Sex, an action driven by temptation is literally cheaper than menstruation, an ordeal that one half of the country has to go through without any choice EVERY MONTH. Imagine paying 80 rupees every month from the age of 12 to 52. Now assume that there is more than one female in a family. As if cramps and aches weren’t enough, there is an added burden of taxation. The government promotes healthier menstrual hygiene while taxing the thing that is most essential to the well-being of a woman on her period. With 12% GST, the napkins will become out of reach for a considerable percent of women.
According to an article by Times of India, only 30% of girl students across 25 schools in Hyderabad use sanitary napkins. NGOs providing low-cost sanitary napkins might have to scale back their supplies. NGO Anarghya Foundation, which has been supplying napkins free of cost to a school, will also have to scale up supplies. 50% of the girls from that school were suffering from vaginal infections before the NGO started providing pads. If the girls have to go back to other substitutes, the health issues might resurface.
Usha Multipurpose Co-operative Society Ltd is a bank run by sex workers of Kolkata’s largest red-light area, Sonagachi. These workers were provided sanitary napkins at subsided prices. Every month more than 60-70 thousand packets of sanitary napkins were being sold from the counters of Usha bank and Durbar to sex workers only in Kolkata. Now with the change of tax rates, the price of napkins will also increase and the companies giving special discounts have no refused to continue. These ladies had started using them only ten years ago after a sustained awareness campaign. In all likeliness, the escalating prices will have a direct impact on their usage by sex workers.
There have been protests and demonstrations ever since the rates for sanitary napkins were revealed. A campaign for exemption of sanitary napkins has been gaining momentum. A finance ministry official says that this is not the solution as the manufacturers will not be able to claim input tax credit again causing the production cost to increase. The policy makers need to come up with a solution that benefits the end consumers as well as the manufacturers.