Under the sagging shelves of newly-packed organic sanitary napkins, 27-year-old entrepreneur — Aaqib Peerzada — is giving tips to his field staff on the home delivery system. Checking each of the packs, Aaqib is particularly enquiring about trash-bags which are distributed for free along with the sanitary napkins, for their proper disposal.
From a shy civil engineer who struggled to tell his parents about his eco-friendly and organic sanitary napkins unit, and that he is promoting menstrual hygiene and safety among women — to being an ethical entrepreneur — Aaqib has taken Kashmir by storm, in his new avatar of a real-life ‘Padman’.
The Initial Struggle
“During a casual discussion with a gynaecologist on a flight, I was shocked to know that companies manufacturing sanitary napkins use plastics and toxic chemicals in sanitary napkins, which is one of the reasons for cervical and ovarian cancer. So I decided to manufacture organic and eco-friendly sanitary napkins to promote safety along with menstrual hygiene,” he said.
After completing B Tech from Chandigarh, Aaqib joined an MNC in Dubai as a civil engineer in 2016.
Guided by social responsibility, he came back to Kashmir last year to start his own venture — of providing safe and inexpensive pads to the women of Kashmir.
“It was very tough for me to discuss my plans with family. It took me 10 days to inform my parents about this. Initially people said what is this, why are you doing this... You will be called ‘Padman’ and all that. Later, my family supported me wholeheartedly. And now when my dad comes to my office, he feels great to find that we are doing something good for society,” said Aaqib.
Debunking Myths And Taboos Around Menstruation
Aaqib invested Rs 30 lakh in the project which was formally launched in April this year. Four months into business, the orders are coming in thick and fast.
“I am importing eco-friendly organic pads in loose form from different countries. Later I pack and sell them under my brand name ‘SEHA’ (An Arabic word for health). It is 100 percent cotton. There is an anion strip in the pad which controls bacteria. These pads are inexpensive. Each pack of six is sold at Rs 45. With each pack of six pads, we provide six trash bags for free. Since the pad is made of cotton, it is biodegradable,” he said.
Menstruation and periods are still a taboo subject in conservative Kashmir.
Behind the veil of modernity lies the dark underbelly of social taboos and misconceptions about periods and pads.
“During her monthly cycles, a girl is told that she cannot do certain work and touch any utensils. We have to make people aware that this is a normal process which happens every month, and there is no such thing like impurity or sin,” Dr Adfat, District Tuberculosis Officer, Budgam, said while addressing the first of its Women Conclave.
Why It’s Important To Spread The Right Info About Menstruation & Reproductive Health
What has added a new dimension to the whole debate on menstrual hygiene is that there are still pockets in Srinagar where girls use cloths during monthly periods.
Sample this: When 31-year-old doctor, Auqfeen Nisar, was treating patients during her weekly Out Patient Department (OPD) in a poor Srinagar neighbourhood, she was shocked to find out that the adolescent girls were using cloth during their periods, because they had told that sanitary pads lead to the infertility.
There were more than 200 adolescent girls in the neighbourhood, and most of them were following their mothers’ examples, and using cloth. As a result, the girls suffered from different Reproductive Tract Infections.
“Maximum cases complained of irritation and allergy. Some said they spend a lot of time in the washroom. When I asked why they were not using the pads, they said their mothers have told them that the materials used in napkins led to infertility,” said Dr Auqfeen, who is pursuing MD in Community Medicine at Government Medical College, Srinagar.
A Mission To Empower Women By Promoting And Inculcating Menstrual Hygiene
For Dr Auqfeen, it has now become a mission to help the girls overcome taboos and maintain menstrual hygiene. “We have registered 200 adolescent girls whom we provide pads at subsided rates every month. We have held several awareness sessions with these girls where we invited their mothers as well, to make them understand that periods are a natural and biological process. We even held awareness sessions with some men who were living in the past,” he said.
Sensing the gravity of the situation, the Jammu and Kashmir government has started installing sanitary napkin vending machines in girls schools.
“Incinerators/vending machines were distributed to the government girls schools of Budgam district for the benefit of girl students along with the distribution of sanitary napkin packs to orphaned students,” said an official spokesman.
Aaqib, on the other hand, is working on a mobile phone App to help girls keep track of their monthly cycles. “I am starting an app to monitor periods. This app will help girls keep track of their monthly cycles so that they can be well prepared,” he said
(Ishfaq-ul-Hassan is a Srinagar-based journalist, and has been reporting for the last 23 years. He has worked across newspapers and TV channels, and was most recently with DNA. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)