After discovering his wife couldn’t afford to buy sanitary pads, Indian entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham set out to develop low cost pads. Not being able to find women who would test his pads, he decided to wear them himself… At first he was considered a pervert, but now there’s a movie being made about his social success story.
When Arunachalam Muruganantham asked his wife why she used old rags instead of sanitary pads, she answered that otherwise they wouldn’t have enough money to buy milk. Shocked, the Indian school dropout bought his wife a pad and discovered they were indeed terribly expensive.
According to its weight, 10g of cotton should cost about a tenth of a cent; a cotton sanitary pad, however, cost 40 times as much. Logical that less than 12% of the Indian women could afford to buy these monthly supplies. In poor rural areas like Muruganantham’s village, women had no choice but to use old rags, sand, leaves or even ash. Long story short: Muruganantham decided pads should and could be cheaper and thus developed a machine which produced low cost sanitary pads. However, he paid a high price for his invention.
Testing with goat’s blood
Menstruation still is a gigantic taboo in India, even more so in the beginning of this century, when Muruganantham started his quest. Finding women who would test his product, turned out to be impossible. His sisters, for example, refused. Eventually, he decided to test the pads himself, hence his nickname ‘menstrual man’. He filled a football bladder with goat’s blood, punched some holes in it and wore this fake uterus underneath his clothes to test the absorbency of his pads.
This wasn’t received well in his traditional village; he was called a pervert, his friends avoided him, his family turned their back on him and even his wife, the one he’d started all this research for, left him. ‘So you see God’s sense of humour,’ Muruganantham said about this in the documentary Menstrual Man. When he started collecting used pads from medical students and laid them in his garden to study, even his mother left.
From outcast to idol
Still, Muruganantham carried on and after years of research, he invented a machine that could make sanitary pads out of pine wood pulp at less than a third of the commercial price. His simple apparatus, which can be operated by women themselves with minimal training, won an award in 2006 and is now used all over India.
Currently, the social entrepreneur is leading Jayaashree Industries. He’s not an outcast anymore either; in 2014 Time Magazine placed him in their list of 100 Most Influential People in the World. Muruganantham has also given a TEDx-talk about his low cost sanitary pad revolution and his story was featured in the award-winning documentary Menstrual Man by Amit Virmani.
The movies: PadMan & Phullu
Currently, there’s also a movie being made that’s based on this true story: PadMan, which is supposed to release in 2018, with actor Akshay Kumar playing Muruganantham. Just recently, the movie Phullu (watch the trailer) was released.
Although not based on Muruganantham, Phullu also features an Indian man who makes sanitary pads for the women in his village. Its tagline: ‘Jo aurat ka dard nahi samajhta, bhagwan usse mard nahi samajhta.’ (translation: The man who doesn’t understand the pain of a woman, isn’t considered a man by God). Helped by these movies, Muruganantham’s low cost sanitary pad revolution will continue and hopefully eventually break India’s menstrual taboo.