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‘Menstrual Man’ from his mission to make low-cost sanitary napkins
Popularly known as the ‘Menstrual Man’, Arunachalam Muruganantham is in the city to be a part of the Fortune 500 CEOs training programme organised by Tuck University
He was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Influential People of 2014 and will be conferred the Indian Business Leader award by the Portugal government in July 2016. But he still gets slapped by women.
“While one part of the world celebrates my invention, women in villages don’t. Last month a woman slapped me because talking about periods is still taboo in India,” says Arunachalam, an inventor of low-cost sanitary napkins in India.
“When we go into the villages to spread awareness about menstruation, we have to take permission from the men of the house. But that doesn’t stop me,” he says.
His aim is to provide one million jobs for women in rural India and ensure that every single woman in the country — as opposed to only 5 per cent today — uses a sanitary pad. His company, Jayaashree Industries, has installed more than 1,300 machines across 27 Indian states and other countries, making Arunachalam one of the most sought after social entrepreneurs in the country.
It all started in the late 1990s. He had recently married and saw his wife discreetly disposing of a piece of cloth which she was using during her periods.
“When I asked her why she was adopting such unhygienic methods, she simply said it was none of my business,” he recounts. Arunachalam insisted that she use sanitary pads, but his wife told him they were expensive. To make life easier for his wife, he went to a store to buy one. The shopkeeper was clearly uncomfortable and wrapped the packet clandestinely as though it were an illegal drug. It got me curious and I opened it to check it out. Imagine a man of 29 years touching a pad for the first time,” Arunachalam says.
He found that it was made only of cotton: why then was it so expensive? He was baffled. That’s when the quest to make low-cost sanitary pads began.
Processing low cost sanitary pads
He tested out several materials, but needed volunteers to try out his products. He asked his wife and sisters. They refused to help after a while, so he decided to try them on himself by faking a period. “I used animal blood inside a football bladder under my clothes.
A tube constantly pumped out blood between my legs where I wore the pad. I’d walk, run and even cycle wearing that and everyday I’d study the sanitary pad’s absorption rates. Those five days were horrible and I understood what women go through.”
After years of research and testing, he figured out a technique to make affordable pads that are as effective as the commercial ones.
Marketing the invention
Next came the challenge of selling them. “I didn’t want to make money. I have always felt that life loses its charm when you run after money,” says Arunachalam.
“Our sanitary napkin-making machine could be made available to a buyer for around Rs.65,000, allowing smaller players to adopt the business model and generate more employment in rural areas.
Sticking to his roots
Arunachalam still lives in his rented house in Coimbatore. He was considered a ‘Dracula’ in the village who was rumoured to be drinking women’s blood at night! Now, years later, he receives a hero’s welcome and gets to rub shoulders with the who’s who of the business world.
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