It was in Class IX when I got my first period. My mum taught me how to wear a pad, and to my 14-year-old self, a disposable sanitary pad was an absolute necessity when I was on my period. For the next few months, and quite honestly till very recently, I would feel the need to take a day off when I got my period—even with access to sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, pills for my pain and what not.
But I cried that I had no shoes till I saw someone with no feet.
According to FSG, a mission-driven consulting organisation for social change, about 88% of Indian girls, who belong to underprivileged families, do not have access to disposable sanitary napkins and rely on homemade alternatives like old pieces of cloth, rags, and even hay, sand or ash!
Naturally, the girls prefer to stay at home rather than go to school during their period.
When something similar happened at the Khairahi village in Uttar Pradesh, the village head decided to do something about it.
Hari Prasad, the village head, observed that a few girls had stopped attending school in the middle of the term without any explanation or warning. He found this to be very peculiar, and when he tried to find out why this was happening, he realised that menstruation was the reason.
Hari Prasad then took upon himself the responsibility to do something about this. “The girls felt embarrassed for something which is the very basis of life,” he told the Times of India. His first step was to teach the men in the girls’ families that there is no taboo around menstruation, and that this natural process should not be an obstacle for their education.
“I told the fathers that if females do not have periods, no one would be born. This is the way nature has made them, and this was not a matter to be ashamed of in any way,” he said.
Furthermore, Hari Prasad became a part of the health department and UNICEF’s ‘Project Garima’ to fight against the stigma of menstruation in the cities of Mirzapur, Jaunpur and Sonebhadra of Uttar Pradesh. The health department also helped Hari Prasad stock up sanitary napkins for the students.
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His efforts to help menstruating girls continue their schooling instead of sitting at home has gotten him the nickname of ‘Padman’ from the youngsters of his village. “I have no idea about the movie, but sometimes the young people call me Padman,” he quips.
It is heartwarming to know that a male authority is fighting for the rights of women in a village in Uttar Pradesh. Through his efforts, over 30 girls who had once given up on education, are going back to school. Inspirational people like Hari Prasad are instrumental in taking forward the cause of female education in rural areas of India.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)