Sanitary Hygiene In India: The Labyrinth Of Politics, Ignorance & Economics


Suddenly media circles are rife with the need for tax-free sanitary napkins, better menstruation hygiene and what not. You hear people talking about how the lack for sanitary napkins is keeping girls away from schools and how only 12% of Indian women are using sanitary napkins. As a middle-class Indian girl brought up in a tier II city in the country and working in its commercial capital, I have quite a few reservations against the claims made by these Shenanigans with a vested interest.

First and foremost, the world over there is a new movement where women are choosing to go back to cloth napkins and tampons instead of the synthetic ones in the name of creating a greener environment. However just for India, suddenly all these global NGOs have a different song to sing. Even for those rooting for cloth napkins, why is there an insistence that rural women should buy these from NGOs making it? In India, for years women have used cloth, washed and dried in bright sunlight. If you are considering hygiene, I don’t believe that there is a better way to do it than this. Moreover, it helps most rural women to maintain hygiene without adding an expense.

Secondly when it comes to data, the most often quoted on in this regard is an AC Nielson & Plan India report that says 12% of over 350 million women use sanitary napkins. A little probing revealed some shocking truth. This data is collated after surveying just a little more than 1000 women. Also even there if we decide to go ahead with the numbers, it won’t be correct to club the rest 88% as those using sand, ash or dried leaves. There could be a select percentage from this list who might be using it but let’s face it who and how they do it. For example in the desert region, fine sand is used as water replacement and they have been doing it for generations. Let’s at least probe and understand the practice before dismissing it as unacceptable.

For that matter, a major chunk of the people in the Western hemisphere use toilet paper instead of water for ablution, how come no hygiene concerns are raised? Simply because it is a practice for generations and you need to understand it in totality before raising questions.

Also the liking of use of sanitary napkins and taxes on it is perhaps a great political stance but means nothing. The cigarette is one of the highest tax product but has that impacted demand in any way? Moreover, the tax component on it is note more than a rupee. If these shenanigans with great concern for India are so worried, why aren’t they looking at ways to propagate the age-old practice of using cloth. It is clean, environment-friendly, inexpensive and has been practised for generations now.

In my opinion, India has ahead of its times and instead of booing all things Indian, it is time to accord Indian women their due respect. The activists would use their time a lot more constructively in creating better awareness about menstruation rather than using it as a means to further business of some foreign NGO.

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