Sensitising menstruating women and their kin to the necessity of sanitary napkins is much needed in the poorly resourced, uninformed sections of society; the campaign must not descend to sermons on economics and spirituality, which actors promoting Padman are not educated enough to deal with
R Balakrishnan (R Balki) must be thanked for picking yet another off-beat, yet socially relevant, subject for his latest film PadMan. In a country where thousands of uninformed or ill-resourced women — mostly in rural and poor societies — are inflicted with diseases due to the use of cloth, soil, dust and ash to deal with their menstruation, actress-turned-producer Twinkle Khanna’s effort to sensitise people with her film PadMan is welcome. Overlook for a while the commercial consideration behind the social media promotion “PadManChallenge”. Till the time the marketing technique educates the vulnerable rightly, not just members of the Bollywood fraternity like Aamir Khan, but also politicians, academics, social workers and every eminent person in society must join the campaign. It is disturbing to learn that even in this day and age, a majority of Indian women do not use (or have access to) sanitary napkins, the rest being vulnerable to urinary tract infection and even uterine cancer. It must have taken Arunachalam Muruganantham tremendous moral courage to take the initiative to make affordable pads, given the fact that men are brought up to feel awkward about dealing with objects used exclusively by women. Women discourage men’s intervention in affairs related to the female reproductive system, too. Boys remain in the dark during their adolescence or believe in speculative — or salacious — gossips by their peers in school. Mothers teach the girls to say they are ‘unwell’ to refer to the four or five days of discharge of blood and mucosal tissue every month since menarche, making boys wonder all the more how their female batch mates could fall ill so frequently! When a teen asks his parents what the advertisements of sanitary pads or napkins on television, in newspapers or magazines imply, he gets an evasive, ludicrous, misleading or downright wrong answer. All this finally leads to a belief that the inevitable biological issue with healthy women — a natural sign of her capability of motherhood — is not serious. The less evolved societies then subject women with issues like oligomenorrhoea (irregular periods), hypomenorrhoea (short periods), polymenorrhoea (frequent periods), hypermenorrhoea (heavy and long periods), dysmenorrhoea (painful periods) and amenorrhoea (absent periods) to medical neglect. In developing countries that are worse off, menstruation-related issues lead to school dropouts, early marriages and even child trafficking. This sex education is required the most by an ill-informed right wing in the country that derives a literal sense out of the term. Making any natural phenomenon a taboo serves the purpose of none. The PadMan sensitisation programme will have achieved its greatest success if some recognisable reactionaries are seen participating in it.
The discourse surrounding PadMan cannot, however, be turned frivolous. An impression has built over the past few years due to Muslim actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan jumping on the bandwagon of the ‘intolerance’ debate and Saif Ali Khan marrying a Hindu Kareena Kapoor that Akshay Kumar is on the “right” side of the political narrative. Relying on a superfluous breed of people like film actors to deliver a socially or politically loaded message is fraught with the risk of embarrassment. This Hindu actor embarrassed the government he seems to have become a poster boy of by telling a gathering of Delhi University students that he would persuade the state to make sanitary pads GST-free! The too-clever-by-half actor must be told that a pad is not made of a singular component, the tax on which, if waived, would make the pads tax-free. Making bleached rayon (derived from cellulose which, in turn, is obtained from wood pulp), cotton, plastics and antibacterial agents tax-free would mean that all the products manufactured in India of these ingredients, including commodities not essential in nature, are being exempted of tax.
Neither can PadMan promoters be allowed view the issue with Western blinkers on. For long, there has been an imported feminist propaganda to malign Hinduism, which says that menstruating women are considered impure by the faith. They are not. God in Hinduism, unlike in monotheistic faiths of West Asia, is variegated. There is no temple dedicated to the singular Almighty or supreme godhood in India that restricts women from entering the premises during their monthly cycles. There are temples devoted to lesser, personal gods and shrines meant to pay obeisance to their human founders where such restrictions are in place because of, respectively, the nature of such deities as defined in the Puranas and the penance of those human founders as recorded in history. There are but other temples of those very gods and sect founders where there is no entry barrier. At home, the advice to a menstruating woman, applicable for a minimal period, is scripture-based only for spiritual activities, as her discharge keeps her mindful of worldliness, which comes in the way of a communion. Separating her from other activities is a case of blind following, superstition or tradition gone astray. A Hindu is also free to create her own sect — or even turn an atheist — if other available options don’t work to her satisfaction. If Hinduism were misogynistic, there wouldn’t be places of worship where men are denied an entry and sancta where men with unhealed wounds are not allowed. This editorial not being a piece of theology, the explanation falls short of being exhaustive. The activists are advised to keep the disquisition limited to hygiene and not delve into aspects they are not educated enough to handle.