Meet the Ostracized, Pad-Wearing, Goat’s-Blood-Collecting Reproductive Health Hero of Southern India

The BBC put up the coolest story you will read all week, maybe, about a man named Arunachalam Muruganantham:

“It all started with my wife,” he says. In 1998 he was newly married and his world revolved around his wife, Shanthi, and his widowed mother. One day he saw Shanthi was hiding something from him. He was shocked to discover what it was — rags, “nasty cloths” which she used during menstruation.

“I will be honest,” says Muruganantham. “I would not even use it to clean my scooter.” When he asked her why she didn’t use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.

Wanting to impress his young wife, Muruganantham went into town to buy her a sanitary pad. It was handed to him hurriedly, as if it were contraband. He weighed it in his hand and wondered why 10g (less than 0.5oz) of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise (£0.001), should sell for 4 rupees (£0.04) — 40 times the price. He decided he could make them cheaper himself.

He fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and gave it to Shanthi, demanding immediate feedback. She said he’d have to wait for some time — only then did he realise that periods were monthly. “I can’t wait a month for each feedback, it’ll take two decades!” He needed more volunteers.

It was hard for him to find any. Only 12% of women in India use pads, and in rural areas the “take-up is far less than that. [Muraganantham] was shocked to learn that women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.” Additionally:

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene — it can also affect maternal mortality.

Muruganantham kept hitting walls — he was a poor workshop worker, outside the social class of the college students who would be the most likely volunteer testers for his products — so he decided, finally, to test his pads on himself. He made a uterus out of a soccer ball and filling it with goat’s blood, and he walked and bicycled and ran all around town with his fake uterus bleeding onto his sanitary pads. Everyone thought he was a diseased pervert! His wife left him! The villagers tried to chain him upside down to a tree to be healed! The rest of the story (he succeeded, four years later!) is marvelous, a truly delightful example of someone using male privilege for the general good. Arunachalam Muruganantham, everybody. We salute you. [BBC]