In a country where the local shopkeeper wraps a packet of sanitary napkins in a newspaper, a white cover and then puts it in a black polythene bag, it is anything but normal for a group of women to hold a gigantic replica of the menstrual product over their head. But that is exactly what happened at a protest against the 12% Goods and Services tax levied on sanitary napkins in Chennai.
The protest at Valluvar Kottam was jointly organised by the Dhagam foundation, an NGO for the empowerment of women and the Collective for sustainable menstruation. Over 100 members and volunteers of these groups, college students, working professionals and homemakers had gathered at the site to voice their opinion against menstruation products falling under the luxury items slab.
"The actual cost of making a sanitary napkin is not that high but when it is being sold women are forced to pay so much," says Kavya Menon, a member of the Collective for sustainable menstruation. "Infact menstrual cups have an 18% tax. These are reusable products that we must encourage women to use as it is better for their health and for the environment. But instead, it is getting taxed," she adds.
Behind Kavya, slogans were constantly raised regarding the taboos associated with menstruation. 'Idhu ennoda ratham, eppome sutham' (This is my blood, it is always clean) yelled a male volunteer of Dhagam as female protesters repeated loudly.
Niveditha, a student of Queen Maris college is amongst these enthusiastic chanters. "I saw Dhagam's post on social media and decided to take part in the event. I have seen the stigma associated with mensturation and talking about it in public. Even within my own family there have been limitations when I am bleeding. I am hoping that us coming out here and talking boldly about the prices of sanitary napkins will slowly begin to change that," she claims.
But what led to her deciding to breakaway from this stigma?
"I always felt like I was inferior when I got my period. But the members of Dhagam came to my college and conducted a session called 'Talk periods.' They made me realise that there is nothing wrong in this natural process," says Niveditha.
Akash, a member of the NGO says that it is unfair to tax menstrual products at 12%. "It is a natural process and we exist because our mothers bled. We have been discussing this even before GST was implemented. But now the entire campaign has gained more traction," he says.
The NGO however alleges that police at the venue were not very cooperative. "They said that our poster of a woman bleeding was too obscene and demanded that we not put it up. In addition to this, they did not let us use chairs or set up a shamiana," he says.
The police at the venue however claim that the organisation did not have the permission for a shamiana or chairs. As far as the poster was concerned, the officer admits, "It was not very acceptable in a public place. So we told them not to put it up."