Finally, GST is rolled out. Pundits are busy analyzing the pros and Cons while normal citizens are curious about what gets cheaper or dearer. Listing sanitary napkins under 12% tax slab is disheartening for most of the women. It’s more irritating to know that bindi, kajal, sindoor, and bangles are tax exempted by the same policy makers. It definitely shows the priorities of our patriarchal society. Isn’t women rights mere tokenism? Are we endorsing the cultural symbolism over today’s women’s genuine issues? A decorative woman is an eye-catcher while a menstruating, dirty and miserable woman is neglected cavalierly. Our modern minds have abolished many ill-practices pertinent to menstruation still we ignore to understand the tough challenges it has imposed.
Categorizing the sanitary pads under high tax slab is an implication to opt for alternatives. The question here is – why are the sanitary napkins considered a luxury item? First, if the policy makers believe that the substitutes of sanitary napkins –reusable cloth pads, cotton rags – are on par with sanitary pads then they need some research. Second, if sanitary pads are considered a threat to the environment because of the chemicals and plastic used in their manufacturing then it requires creating a parallel market for indigenous environment-friendly sanitary means as well as a proper disposal mechanism before we choose to make them unattainable.
In the bygone era, women managed without sanitary pads but that was the time when they refrained from even the usual household activities leave going out alone. They had five dedicated days per month just to menstruate. Today’s women have different challenges. They work in and out of their houses during their periods. And it’s extremely inconvenient to walk without a robust sanitary mechanism. Even if we ignore the convenience of adult women –who anyways if surviving in this society definitely have learnt to adjust –for now, we can’t ignore the little girls struggling with early puberty problems. Researches show that puberty age for urban girls is even less than 8 years these days. So it’s imprudent to assume that these girls can handle the menstruation with the age-old practices. If the reusable cotton pads aren’t changed frequently; if they aren’t washed and dried well, they can become the breeding ground for bacterias and cause severe infections.
We need to be both 1) solution oriented as well as 2) sensitive towards people’s need. The government can promote the manufacturing and marketing of indigenous environment-friendly sanitary pads under make in India projects which will help consumers as well as generate employment. Also, the sanitary waste should be declared as bio-medical waste which can be incinerated in centralized incinerators with proper monitoring. In order to address the bigger issues, one needs to fix several smaller ones pertinent to it in parallel. Taxes on daily commodities affect the people staying in the middle and bottom of the social pyramid and these are the people who face daily challenges the most. But the problem is when our stomach is full we become philosophers while when we are hungry we strive hard for our survival. I believe this applies to our bureaucrats and policy makers as well.