'Want To Talk to Nitish ji': Bihar Teen Who Asked for Subsidised Sanitary Pads

Riya took the internet by storm after she asked an IAS officer why the government couldn't give pads for Rs 20-30.

4 min read

Video Producer: Mayank Chawla

Video Editor: Harpal Rawat

Riya Kumari has her hands full at the moment. Her phone has been buzzing constantly, and her neighbours and friends – not to mention media persons – have lined up outside her house in Patna's Kamla Nehru Nagar colony in Bihar, hoping to talk to her for a few minutes.

The 20-year-old took the internet by storm recently after she asked Harjot Kaur Bamhrah, a senior IAS officer in Bihar, why the government couldn't distribute sanitary pads for Rs 20-30. Bamhrah's flippant response to her – about people's demands for 'freebies' being never-ending and how they would ask for free condoms next – drew flak, forcing her to apologise for the same.

But Riya, a student of Ram Vilas Rai College, Raghupur, Bihar, never thought her exchange with the IAS officer would capture the attention of the entire country. "When madam (Bamrah) asked me if I'll ask for free condoms next, I didn't even know what 'condom' meant. It was the first time I heard of it. Honestly, I had no idea this would become a big issue and that I would receive such an overwhelming response."

So, what prompted Riya to ask such a pertinent question? The Quint finds out.


'I Like Creating Awareness, Asking Questions'

Riya was representing Save the Children, an NGO she volunteers for, at the 'Sashakt Beti, Samridh Bihar' event, where she raised the question about sanitary pads. She says that as part of her volunteer work, she visits several neighbouring slums, where she raises awareness about various social issues, including menstruation.

"I like working in slums, for the people. What I expressed on that stage is what I want to do in life – create awareness and ask questions. I keep going to these slums. In my town, there is a slum, where people don't even like to go. I go there, interact with young girls like me, and have tea with them. I speak to them about sanitary pads because a lot of them still use cloth," Riya tells The Quint.

"People are still shy to talk about these things; it's like they still live in the past. If we don't tell families about this, then these girls will get sick, and they will have to face the consequences."
Riya Kumari

Riya adds that there are several girls in her town who don't go to school when they are on their period. "They just take leaves for a week every month. I often tell them to stop doing this."


'We're Not Well-Off, but I Make Sure Never To Use Cloth'

Riya has four sisters and three brothers; her father passed away in 2020. "My brother is a coolie and my mother takes care of the house. During COVID, things were very difficult for us. All the trains were stopped, so my brother had no work. And my father was very upset about this. He was fine for two-three months, but suddenly he complained of chest pain and passed away soon after."

Despite her brother being the only earning member, Riya says she makes sure she and the women in her family use sanitary pads – and not cloth – so that they don't fall prey to infections. "There are three menstruating women in my house and all of us use sanitary pads. Sometimes, we get the Rs 40 one, and at other times, the Rs 30 one. I buy it depending on how much money I have at the time."

She adds, "There are several women and girls in the slums I work in, who can't afford sanitary pads. These people in the slums are mostly ragpickers and rickshaw wallahs, they can't afford to buy pads. They can't even afford medicines when they fall sick. How will they afford pads? They sometimes ask me how they will spend Rs 40 on pads every month when they can't afford food on some days. This is why I asked that question to the IAS officer."


What Next for Riya?

After videos of her interaction with Bamhrah went viral on social media, feminine hygiene company Everteen offered to pay for Riya's three-year college education, in addition to providing her unlimited sanitary pad supply for a year. Speaking to The Quint, Hariom Tyagi, who works with Everteen, said that the company would be happy to offer her employment in the future if she wished to work with them.

"I'm happy to have received this offer because I will be doing what I like doing – raising awareness about menstruation. I'm also happy that a lot of girls in my part of the town, who are shy about periods, who don't talk about it in front of the men in their families, approached me after this incident. And they now realise it's not something to be shy about. They understand it's something they shouldn't be ashamed of. Menstruation is not a sin, it's a natural process. There is no life without this process."
Riya Kumari

But more than anything, what Riya wants now is an audience with the political leaders of Bihar. "Everyone wants to know about me, what kind of family I am from. But Nitish Kumar ji (Chief Minister of Bihar) hasn't met me yet! Chirag Paswan ji (Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) chief) has also not met me. A lot of politicians are talking about me, be it Tej Pratap Yadav (Environment Minister of Bihar) or Chirag Paswan. They said there's a lot of courage in me, but why haven't they met me yet?"

Riya says she wants to meet the chief minister face to face because then "he can listen to what I want to say."

"I can discuss these issues with him. I can make a bigger difference. I also want to tell him that he did a good thing by taking note of what the IAS officer said," she adds.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Women   Menstruation   Bihar 

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