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What Was The 12% GST On Period Products All About?

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Written by Bipasha Mandal

India is a land where contradictions will continue to abound“, says Rama Bijapurkar half sardonically, half despairingly in his book ‘We are Like that Only: Understanding the Logic of Consumer India’. He couldn’t be closer to the truth. In theory, the Constitution guarantees equality and equal opportunity for everyone. In practice, 60% of girls miss school due to lack of access to sanitary products.

The need of the moment, it would seem then, is to direct our efforts towards thinking out a way to enable people to go through their periods with dignity and minimum hassle. But this seems not to have been among the government’s priority lists when it framed the 2017 GST.

Source: Women’s Voices

Under it, a tax of 12% was imposed on period products (1.36% less than the previous VAT system). For a country in which around 58% of the women use sanitary napkins, according to NHFS-IV data, the Indian government seems to be astonishingly indifferent. A major cause of reproductive health risks is the use of improper and even harmful materials to contain the menstrual flow. Since it was high time, the people decided to take matters into their own hands.

Under VAT, taxes were added to each level of manufacturing and distributing process, right up till selling a product off to the customer. It was a ‘tax on taxes’ system. GST, however, assigns products to seven tax slabs with a fixed single tax rate – Exempted or 0.25%, 3%, 5%, 12%, 18% ,28%. Items of regular consumption, things that cannot be done without, such as salt, food grains, vegetables, printed books, and newspapers come under the ‘exempted’ slab.

Why then, asked menstruators, should period products, which similarly cannot be done without, be grouped with items like cell phones, processed foods and playing cards, under the 12% rate slab? The classification of period products as non-essential items under the GST had kick-started a wave of protests. Menstruators voiced their concerns, with the hashtag #LahuKaLagaan (tax on blood) which spread like wildfire across the internet.

Petitions were signed across the country demanding a revoking of this move, the most notable of them being the ones submitted by Zarmina Israr Khan, a PhD scholar of African studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University to the Delhi High Court highlighting that such an action is ‘unconstitutional, illegal and arbitrary’ and Shetty Women Welfare Foundation’s petition to the Bombay High Court. Zarmina Israr Kan’s petition cited the violation of several fundamental rights, right to life and equality among them, incurred by the tax, keeping in mind particularly the plight of underprivileged women.

The Delhi High Court questioned the Centre on the absence of female members from the GST Council and asked whether the GST was framed in consultation with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The Centre defended its law by stating that a reduction of tax on sanitary products would mean that manufacturers could not claim the input tax credit, which is a loss also for the government revenue.

A manufacturer pays taxes on the raw materials. These are offset by the output tax embedded in the selling price paid by the dealer when he buys the product from the manufacturer. The manufacturer claims the selling amount that covers his taxes as an input tax credit. The government claims the credit liability or the amount left after subtracting the input tax or tax on raw materials from the output tax.

Manufacturers of products exempted from GST are not liable to collect input tax credit. It is estimated that the raw materials for period products such as wood pulp, cotton and polymer are taxed from 12% to 18%.
The inability of the manufacturers to claim ITC has several implications. Big companies can offset their losses on period products with gains from other departments, but this will prove especially damaging to small-scale manufacturers.

Furthermore, the tariff cut would disadvantage local manufacturers as they would have to face competition from imports which are exempted from other payments to the government. The increase in the costs of sanitary products could very well be a knee-jerk reaction to these, worsening the already yawning gap between the haves and have-nots of menstrual hygiene.

The Supreme Court stayed the proceedings at the Delhi and Bombay High Courts requesting a further investigation in the matter and even considered hearing the two petitions as a single case. On 26th July 2018, the Government of India issued a notification to scrap the 12% tax on sanitary products which came into effect the next day and has remained so till now.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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