After the release of “Padman” this year, the issue of menstrual hygiene became a hot topic of discussion. “Padman” is inspired by the real-life story of Arunachalam Muruganatham, the inventor of a low-cost sanitary pad making machine and a social activist working towards generating awareness about traditional unhygienic practices around menstruation in rural India. With menstrual hygiene being a key factor in the overall health of a woman, sanitary napkins are a necessity for them. As GST got implemented across India on different products under various categories, a GST of 12% on sanitary napkins has evoked widespread criticism from all corners.
A petition was filed by PhD scholar Zarmina Israr Khan challenging the 12% GST tax on sanitary napkins. The petition led to the Delhi court questioning the Government that if bindis, sindoor and bangles can be exempted from GST, why sanitary napkins, which are a necessity for all women, also be tax-free. The court also questioned the absence of women in the 31 member GST council.
India is a country where a large part of the female population cannot afford sanitary napkin pads. And putting up a 12% tax on the item would widen the gap between the women of our country and menstrual hygiene, specifically in rural areas where the conditions vary from bad to worst. Sanitary napkins aren’t a luxury that one needs to afford, but a necessity as almost every woman bleeds. And it makes sanitary napkin a fundamental right for every woman.
Items like sindoor, bangles and bindi are tax exempted because the turnover of their manufacturing industry is below ₹20 lakhs and as our Finance Minister stated, every industry with a turnover of ₹20 lakhs will be exempted from GST, which in turn is a great step to save small-scale industries and local traders.
Now the question arises as to why commodities like rice, salt and condoms are exempted from GST when the companies that manufacture them have a turnover of crores. It is simply because they are essential for the living of a person and because they are such a necessity, they are exempted from the GST tax slab. Like salt is an essential, the even sanitary napkin is a necessity for every woman in India, and it should be categorized as an essential commodity that can improve the menstrual hygiene of this country in a big way.
The government is doing its part though with the Union Health Ministry along with the Family Welfare Ministry launched a ₹150-crore scheme to push low cost sanitary napkin pads in rural India. Several private limited companies are working with NGOs to push the low-cost sanitary napkins across India, but the results haven’t been that significant. A young Indian startup quickcompany.in which deals in company registrations online in India tried to do the same partnering with a local NGO in Delhi. The biggest problem that lies before every person who wishes better menstrual hygiene for this country is the lack of awareness amongst people.
A large section of women in India still sees sanitary napkins as a luxury and not a necessity. This ignorance and the mindset that we can do without pads has proven to be lethal for women in our country. And there are enough incidents to prove the above sentence. Poor menstrual health has led to deaths of women, in rural India, teen girls leave schools once they reach puberty. And all this for a simple reason that they cannot afford sanitary pads.
The government and society need to understand that every woman needs it. Puberty is an unavoidable stage every woman goes through. Every woman bleeds monthly, and hence it makes sanitary napkin a necessity for all, not a luxury item to be afforded by a few.