By Kelly Kislaya:
Ranchi, Jharkhand: When 30-year-old Mangesh Jha decided to quit a well-paying job in 2015, to work towards spreading awareness on menstrual hygiene management in Jharkhand, his family was shocked. “My mother didn’t speak with me for a week when I told her about my decision,” Jha recalls.
When she understood his motivation for the switch, she was the first one who came out in support, he recalls. Today, Jha’s work has managed to bring about a change in the lives of more than 1,500 families in and around Ranchi, by encouraging women to follow hygienic period practices. It has also earned him the moniker of being the ‘Padman of Jharkhand’.
After finishing his graduation from the Institute of Hotel Management in 2009, Jha worked with two hotel companies in Kolkata and Pune before moving to Ranchi in 2013. “The internet painted a rosy picture of forests and sceneries and I was more than excited to move to Jharkhand”, he recalled.
However, when he started visiting villages on the outskirts of Ranchi during weekends, he discovered a starkly different reality. Once, he met a pregnant woman who was feeding herself and her child the local rice beer, since she couldn’t afford to even buy a basic meal. Another time, he met a farmer who had banned menstruating women from working in the field.
As he started interacting more with the women, he realized that most women used grass, ash and cow dung mixed with husk as pads while menstruating. It shocked him.
According to the National Family Health Survey, 82.1% of women in Jharkhand still follow unhygienic menstrual practices. As per a UNICEF study that was undertaken in Jharkhand, in 2015, on exposure to communication on menstruation, 71 percent of girls said their mothers imposed restrictions on them during periods. 32 percent of them knew nothing about menstruation before its onset.
67 percent of the teachers surveyed believed menstruation was a way to release body heat, and the blood released during it was impure. 80 percent females of menstruating age did not know the importance of washing menstrual cloth to kill germs.
It was then that Jha finally decided to quit his job and work on menstrual hygiene management. “The pads were very expensive and I couldn’t afford to buy them (for everyone). So my mother stitched a few pads for me in the beginning,” he said.
However, the journey of convincing people was far from easy, with resistance coming in both from all sides.“Women would not want to talk about it or refuse to take the pad I was distributing,” he said.
“To make them comfortable, I would start by telling them that it is a very natural process and my mother and sister go through it too. Gradually, they would understand and then I would tell them about the problems they could face because of unhygienic practices, like urinary tract and reproductive tract infections.”
When the women started listening to him, he started advising them to use sanitary pads or if they couldn’t afford pads, to use a clean cloth. “I would make it a point to tell them that they should ensure that the cloth is washed properly and dried in sunlight instead of being hidden away in a dark corner,” he said.
“Women from nearly 1,500 to 2,000 families in the villages on the outskirts of Ranchi have taken my advice and are following hygienic practices. Many of them are also supporting me by spreading the word at their level,” Jha told Youth Ki Awaaz.
Pramila (name changed), a girl in her 20s from Rasabera village on the outskirts of Ranchi, said, “Earlier we used grass during periods but dada [Jha] told us about the health problems it can lead to. He gave us a few pads to use. Initially, we were not comfortable using them but now I believe that it is the best thing to do and it has actually brought about a change in the lives of all the girls and women in our village.”
Currently, Jha is working with Niine, a sanitary pad-making company, and plans to install sanitary pad vending machines in schools, police stations, bus stands and other such public places frequented by women.
He hopes to get sanitary pad vending machines installed in long-route trains as well. “You would have noticed that there are no female TTEs in long-distance trains. In such situations, a passenger cannot seek help from anyone if she needs a pad. If a vending machine is installed in these trains, it will prove to be very beneficial for the women travellers,” he opined.
The author is a Ranchi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.