GB speaks to the ‘Padman of Bengal’
• How did the idea of helping women with sanitary pads during their hour of need come up?
I first started off in 2017 October with transgenders. I was probably the first person in India to have helped in ideating and building a transgender washroom at Bansdroni metro station. For this I got the National Award also.After convincing ward councillors, we set aside a cubicle each in public toilets for the transgender community by pasting a sticker, bearing the universally accepted transgender symbol. This was called ‘Tridhara.’ Fifteen such toilets today have the sticker.
But the ‘sanitary napkin for women’drive came up when one of my female friends, had to leave a meeting because she suddenly started her periods. She was not carrying a sanitary napkin. That’s when I realised what hundreds of other women also go through, as probably many of them are not prepared for the menstrual cycle that might start without schedule.
• How did you start off with the project?
I first bought sanitary pads with Rs 700, as many as I could buy. My friends also contributed from time to time. And then I put them into small packets and kept them in public toilets so that any woman in need has access to such pads. Even my father on one of my birthdays gifted me packets of sanitary napkins.
• Are the authorities helping you?
Yes, once I started the work, a lot of people are helping me. Kolkata Municipal Corporation is supplying me with sanitary napkins. Also, many of my friends are also contributing. I now get sanitary napkins at Rs 2 per piece. Some give me for free. Initially I bought them myself. I could also convince many municipal ward about my project and how important it is.
• What is the reach of your work?
I have been installing Bandhan boxes with sanitary pads in it in public toilets and the number of such toilets has now crossed 30. I plan to take up many more. Right now my work is concentrated in South Kolkata, but it will soon start in parts of North Kolkata also.
• How does your family help you?
My parents are extremely supportive. Even when I was not home, attending my classes, they organise the sanitary napkins and pack them for me. My friends are also rallying behind me. On posting about Project Bandhan on social media, many friends and acquaintances have come forward to support me. One day even a 13-year-old girl contacted me and offered help with her little pocket money. I was really impressed.
• What are your future plans?
I hope that Project Bandhan will take off on a national level so that women across India can avail of the convenience of sanitary napkins in public toilets. This will also educate the public about women health and hygiene and the taboo surrounding female reproductive health.
Photo Credit - Sobhan Mukherjee