Maternal health is big concern for India. ‘Subah’ has killed two birds with one stone in Bundelkhand, improved menstrual hygiene and provided rural livelihood
Suman (17), a college student in Mahoba district of parched Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh has a horrifying tale to share when she entered the puberty age four years ago. The pain, agony and shock were compounded when her illiterate mother gave her a home-made unhygienic sanitary napkin. It was an old dirty cloth padded with sand to soak the blood when she encountered her first ‘period’ in life. She wasn’t very comfortable using this kind of sanitary napkin. But she hardly had any option to refuse than trying it out to avoid facing the shame.
Every morning she was advised to change the sand till the period was over. While she was yet to come out with shock of biological and physical changes taking place during puberty, she caught up with the urinary tract infection (UTI). Initially, she did not share the unbearable burning pain and sensation but when the fever went up to alarming level her poor parents had no choice than to take her to a government hospital.
Her parents, who could not afford Rs 10 to buy her a sanitary napkin, had to shell out Rs 500 for the UTI treatment. This is not a isolated case, almost all girls and women in all seven districts of backward, poorest and most illiterate region of Bundelkhand go with similar trauma every month.
Since the literacy, health and hygiene is lowest and poverty is highest in this region, for centuries girls and women are using indigenous sanitary napkins made with dirty old cloth padded with coal ash, sand, dry earth etc to cope with the mentrual cycles. During this period, they are virtually ostracized and disallowed to enter kitchen, take part in any religious or other ceremonies. The social stigma attached to ‘mahawari’ (peiod) is so strong in the region that they are treated as outcast and forced to cut off from the outside world for five days. This trauma ends when their period is over and they are purified again to cast aside their ‘impurities’.
Due to health and hygiene issues in girls and women in this region, 20 per cent of them remain childless. Studies suggest that it was due to use of unhygienic ways during periods which affected their sterility and fertility. Bundelkhand has only 835 / 1000 female-male ratio, one of the lowest in the country.
But a silent revolution, which started in Mahoba has yielded positive results and changed the lifestyle of girls and women in this region. It has successfully created awareness and addressed their health and hygiene issues by removing the stigma attached to their monthly menstrual cycle. A new dawn descended in the district on April 3, 2013 when a unit of making low-cost sanitary napkins for poor and downtrodden village girls and women was opened in Mahoba.
The then District Magistrate of Mahoba, Dr Kaajal studied and understood their pain and sufferings. She roped in the NGO Fifth Estate and directed the Gram Panchayat Adhikari , Anil Sengar to go to Solana NTPC Sanitary Napkin Unit in Hapur district and make a business plan. But Sengar had to return empty handed as the Hapur unit became unviable and was closed down. But the lady DM did not give up. Sengar was sent to Coimbatore where such a unit was running. She sanctioned Rs 3.5 lakhs to buy the required machinery and other resources to set up the sanitary napkin unit in Mahoba.
But before she could realize her dream, she was transferred. But since a social revolution was already brewing up in the region for women upliftment and empowerment, the new DM Anuj Kumar Jha took up from where Dr Kajaal left. He not only set up the first unit but took up a loan of Rs 4 lakhs from Khadi and Village Industries Commission to set up another unit in Mahoba in less than a year.
The unit not only gave employment to women in the region but soon it brought a revolution in the region. Initially, cost of a packet of 8 sanitary napkins was put at Rs 10. With inflation, it has now gone up to Rs 15 to 18 a pack of six, still much cheaper than the ultra modern available in the market. Besides manufacturing sanitary napkins, the units also produced maternity pads selling at Rs 48 for a pack of six whereas the same was available in the market for Rs 300-400.
The demand for these low-cost sanitary and maternity products soon started coming from other districts of Bundelkhand and even from different parts of the state and outside.
The Tariff Commission of India and Akhilesh government also lauded efforts of DM Anuj Kumar Jha who was felicitated by both state and Central governments. The low-cost sanitary napkins were given the name of ‘subah’ (a new dawn).
Subah not only helped address their health and hygiene issues but empowered women financially. Over 100 women have so far been given employment in Mahoba alone. They earn Rs 3,000 to 3500 monthly plus a bonus of Rs 500 per month for working 23 days in a month.
The revolution may have started from Mahoba but soon it spread to other states. Village development officers from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana etc made a beeline to study and set-up units in rural and backward areas of their states.
How ‘Subah’ drastically changed the lifestyle of girls and women in Mahoba was better understood by UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple Yadav, MP from Kannauj. She asked Fifth Estate Managing Director Pallavi Gupta to draw up a plan for the entire state. Fifth Estate gave a presentation
to the UP Chief Secretary in the presence of 20 Principal Secretaries and later to the Chief Minister and his wife. ‘Subah’ got wings and soon more units were opened in Kannauj and neighbouring Kanpur. The project has now been taken up to 65 districts and very soon more districts will also be joining in.
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