The conversation around periods finally seems to be getting some kind of support from mainstream cinema. Akshay Kumar – through his movie PadMan – is exhorting his audiences to reflect upon a key issue: that of menstrual hygiene and the need to discuss the perils surrounding it.
PadMan is not the first film to highlight periods; Phullu made a brave attempt in 2017, but it failed to induce dialogue.
PadMan, on the other hand, is based on true events – the story of Arunachalam Muruganatham who, in 1998, embarked upon a seemingly impossible journey of making sanitary pads easily available for women after he saw his wife using old rags as a substitute for the essential commodity.
Medical Issues Arising Out of Poor Menstrual Hygiene
For decades now, there has been a major stigma attached to the discussion of menstrual troubles in our country. This, in a country where barely 12% of our menstruating women use sanitary pads. While most women are not allowed to visit temples during their periods, others are treated as untouchables within the premises of their own houses. Stepping inside the kitchen (which is often culturally considered the most pious spot of a house) during periods is forbidden for most of them – even as men refrain from acknowledging the various medical ailments that their partners go through.
The substandard state of menstrual hygiene over a long stretch of time has led to worsening health conditions. Women in our country now suffer from reproductive tract infections, urinary tract infections – in most cases, leading to cervical cancer, which, in itself, kills around 72,000 women in India every year – more than anywhere else on the globe.
When it comes to education, in India, 1 out of every 5 girls drops out of school because of something as natural and basic as menstruation. A total of 20% girls in our country end up abstaining from school.
Big Screen Vs Small Audience?
Though the movie carries forth a message as strong as that of promoting menstrual health, the question is – how many people in our country will be able to visit cinema halls to watch it?
India accounts for the largest number of people living below the international poverty line – with over 30 per cent of its population under the $1.90 (Rs.121.28) a-day poverty measure. While a movie ticket costs way beyond what the daily poverty limit is, it is clearly not something which 50% of Indians living in the rural belt will be able to afford. Therefore, it again boils down to one question – what else do we need beyond a star-studded and intensely promoted movie to sensitise the masses? Certainly, a lot of active campaigning, and counselling – along with free access to sanitary napkins to people who certainly cannot afford them.
A Discussion is Imperative. Period.
The problem doesn’t merely stop with ensuring access to sanitary napkins. Today, even places that do sell this very essential commodity end up wrapping it in large black polythene bags, only to depict how close-minded our society still is.
In terms of personal relationships, the onus also lies on the men to understand the plight of the millions of women who undergo any number of menstrual troubles every month. Movies like PadMan can act as a catalyst, but it is imperative that discussions, awareness campaigns and educational programmes on the issue take place as soon as possible.
(The writer is a journalist and a Political Science graduate and can be reached @SharmaNaina222. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)