CHENNAI: Despite its progress in science, business and technology, India can still be frighteningly superstitious and biased as the recent struggle of women of menstruating age for the right to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala showed. The issue divided the nation and resulted in a high court hearing.
R. Balki’s 2018 film “Pad Man,” with Akshay Kumar, shows how this age-old taboo has created a culture of discrimination and resulted in serious health issues for women and girls. Kumar plays Arunachalam Muruganantham, an Indian entrepreneur spearheading a campaign to provide access to sanitary napkins.
Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi’s “Period. End of Sentence,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, looks at the humiliation and hurt Indian women face during their menstrual cycle.
Produced by Melissa Berton and now streaming on Netflix, “Period” is a brutally fascinating film. Set in Hapur, near New Delhi, the documentary explores the myths, social conditioning and oppression prevalent for centuries.
This social stigma is not confined to rural India, but is also common in cities and among the educated classes. The documentary shows girls giggling or looking horrified at the mention of periods. Meanwhile, village elders describe menstruation as “bad blood that sullies women, a disease that should be silently wiped off with pieces of dirty, discarded rags.”
When a low-cost sanitary vending machine is installed in Hapur, a group of women begin promoting the product in a door-to-door campaign. It is a revolution of sorts with affordable products replacing those made by large multinationals, whose high cost has been an obstacle to wider use.
The film also reveals how the new machine opens up an economic opportunity for the village women, giving them a sense of freedom and identity.