In 2006 a person named Arunachalam Muruganantham visited IIT Madras to register his invention for the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovation Award. He paced restlessly and tried to explain the advantages of his invention, which wouldn’t even directly benefit him, but it would benefit those who are termed as the ‘fairer sex’ by the society.
He actually won the award; and what did he invent? He invented a low cost sanitary pad-making machine which can manufacture sanitary pads for less than a third of the cost of commercial pads.
Well, science is based on facts but interestingly scientists are termed mad. Muruganantham strapped himself to a machine he fashioned himself that pumped out blood into the sanitary pad he wore. He was another mad scientist the world did not understand. Muruganantham jovially informs “My fellow villagers thought I was a vampire. I came close to being tied up to tree.”
I have two reasons to talk on this topic and this man’s invention. Firstly, I belong to this category of ‘fairer sex’ and secondly, I am an Indian. Today Muruganantham’s machine runs in 4800 points in India and in 29 other countries. Family Health Survey 2015-2016, estimates that of the 336 million menstruating women in India, only about 121 million (roughly around 36 percent) women are using sanitary napkins, locally or commercially produced. Menstruation is a topic that’s spoken about in hushed tones, accompanied with sideways glances. Moreover this topic has lots of myths and superstitions associated with it that has been passed down from generation to generation. Science and innovative ideas don’t only come to those with high educational degrees, Muruganantham dropped out of school at the age of 14 but his invention is changing the long prevalent thoughts in the Indian society.
The best thing about his innovation is that a village girl, who once shut herself at home merely because she was menstruating, can finally go to school. In the world where women are exploring space, women in tribal villages in India have strange beliefs surrounding menstruation; some believe that if they use a sanitary towel, their eyes would be taken away. Muruganantham says, “A girl used it for two months and told her friends ‘Look, my eyes are still intact’.” This is just an example as to how the power of science has impacted remotest of the societies in India.
While we were welcoming the year 2020 nobody knew that this year would throw a curveball at us. The nightmarish year just went from bad to worse but the so called “biological clock” in females will continue to tick even if doomsday arrives. Talking about our country, the topic of menstruation has always been a taboo. When I was about the age to know the facts, my mother sat me down and told me about this in hushed tones. I still remember the hesitation etched on her face as she tried hard to explain to me the inevitability of periods. Down the line it was known that I suffer from PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), even many of the girls don’t know about PCOS until they finally need to face it. With this pandemic raging outside, going to the gynecologist for the regular checkup wasn’t an option anymore, so I was left to fend for myself, exercising at home and making sure the clock runs smoothly. The pandemic has harmed us mentally as well, with people under lot of stress and this stress isn’t good for our hormones.
One thing I have learnt through my experience with PCOS is that we need to talk about menstruation and the problems associated with it more often. Today, when I talk with someone about my fight with PCOS, they immediately start opening up regarding their difficulties. I have found people hiding so many questions related to their periods but don’t find a channel to get answers for their queries. I am not a doctor or an expert but I help them to open up and share their problems.
During lockdown I have got calls from my friends asking for information related to PCOS as they think they might have it or their friend might be suffering from it. I have slowly become a go-to person for my friends who have queries related to menstruation and PCOS, and it feels good. This pandemic has at least taught us one very important thing and its that we need to support each other.
United we stand, divided we fall; this adage has practical implementation in 2020.
When I help people through my talks on menstruation I feel happy, my struggles have made sure that being tightlipped about menstruation and problems related to it isn’t an option and I am happy to help in even a small way that I can.
Stephan Hawking said, “Scientists have become the bearer of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” These torch bearers are bringing in light to the societies plagued with superstitions and burdened with myths. My mother instructed me once, “Never wash your hair on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.” A word immediately short out of my mouth, “why?”, and this simple question got an even simpler answer, “I don’t know why”. Science has made us question the happenings around us, which people simply accepted as rule without even asking the reason or logic behind them. That day I told my mother, “you tell me the reason behind that rule and I’ll follow it without further questions.” Since that day, believing in superstitions came to a grinding halt at my household.
When a country prospers, the citizens residing it prosper as well. Science has overcome lots of superstitions and myths in its stride forward, but like Robert Frost said, “…and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” It’s a never ending journey that’ll go on in future.
Author: Mobani Biswas
A small town girl with big dreams, Mobani has an ambition of doing something unique like her name. After completing B.A(Hons) in English Literature from Delhi University, she pursued her masters from University of Allahabad. Currently enrolled for a B.Ed. degree with the aim to teach the future generations of our country. Her fight with PCOS has made me more open on the topic of menstruation and problems related to it, and she love sharing my knowledge with people who sought for her help.
Instagram: @mobanibiswas | Facebook: Mobani Biswas
Edited by: Divya Rosaline