Arunachalam Muruganantham is an innovator from India who first became known in 2012 thanks to his machine that produces cheap and durable menstrual pads for women in India. Six years and a lot of success later, his story is now a Bollywood movie by the name of PadMan.
Muruganantham first started to work on his innovation thanks to his wife. Upon seeing her use old rags that he “wouldn’t even clean his two-wheeler with”, he started experimenting with different materials using his wife and sisters as test subjects.
Menstrual pads in India, at the time of Muruganantham’s first foray into the research, were too expensive for most women to use regularly and the social stigma around menstruation added to the lack of access to hygienic menstrual products.
Still, 40 percent of women in India don’t have access to sanitary products during their period.
Back in his homemade lab, Arunachalam Muruganantham’s first tries weren’t going so well and, eventually, his wife and sisters got sick of their roles as guinea pigs and went back to their rags.
He tried to find volunteers to test out his inventions but as menstruation was and still is a taboo in India he had trouble finding anyone who was willing to speak to him about her experiences.
Thus, Muruganantham decided to test his ideas on himself, devising a concoction from rubber and animal blood. However, some people from his village caught him and he was ostracised for both his “crazy” ideas and his openness about the topic of menstruation.
Even his wife broke up with him.
Despite all of this, Muruganantham kept on with his research, believing that he was onto something. And he was indeed. It took him years but he ended up inventing a machine that can produce low cost sanitary pads.
In 2014 Muruganantham was on the Times list of 100 most influential people for all his contributions to women’s health in India; In 2016 he was given the Padma Shri by the Indian Government, the fourth highest civilian award.
Muruganantham’s research and invention not only brought affordable and hygienic menstrual products to women in India but his work also has contributed greatly to the fight against the social stigma against menstruation in the country.
PadManis another step towards defeating the stigma. Only a few years ago even talking about menstruation was frowned upon in the country but now it is the subject of a Bollywood film starring one of India’s most prominent leading men Arijit Singh.
Talking about menstruation, along with providing women and girls hygienic, and affordable, menstrual products both saves their lives and greatly improves them.