Who should receive the next Bharat Ratna award? by Ranjana Ramanan
Answer by Ranjana Ramanan:
Known by names like ‘Menstrual Man’ and ‘Tampon King’, Arunachalam Muruganantham is a social entrepreneur from rural Coimbatore who is changing the way rural women perceive menstrual health and has employed a million women along the way.
He left school at the age of 14 as he lost his father and had to help his mother support the family. Not going to high school made him more curious about everything around him.
He first thought of making a budget sanitary pad when he saw his wife using rags during menstruation. He was shocked that the sanitary pads cost Rs. 4 in 1998 when the same amount of cotton only cost 10 paise.
When he launched his mission to produce a sanitary pad that was affordable, he was left all alone on his journey. His wife and mother left him and his village ostracized him thinking he was going mad.
When he discovered that multinational corporations used machines that cost millions, he resolved to make an economical machine of his own to make sanitary towels.
In 2011, AC Nielson’s survey that was commissioned by government of India found that only 12% of Indian women used sanitary napkins. Muruganantham was taken aback to learn that these numbers were even lower for women in rural areas and these women didn’t only use rags but also other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.
His mission is not just to increase the use of sanitary pads but also to increase employment for women in rural areas. His mother suffered after his father’s death when she had to sell everything they owned and work as a labourer to support her 4 children. Muruganantham wants women to be self-dependent.
He first launched his product in Bihar and felt if he could change mindsets there, he could succeed anywhere.
Today he wants to spread his product’s reach to 106 countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, Philippines and Bangladesh.
He has installed his machines in villages and in schools so girls don’t need to drop-out from school any more.
His best moment wasn’t when he received an award from the president of India but when a woman called from a remote village of Uttarakhand where nobody had sent children to school for generations but this woman had called to say her daughter now went to school.
Muruganantham says, “Where Nehru failed, one machine succeeded.”