Cameraperson: Nitin Chopra
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
'Period. End of Sentence.' won an oscar for the best documentary under short subject category this year. The film was shot in Kathikhera, a small village near Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh. The documentary may have brought to attention the state of menstrual hygiene in rural India and the taboo over periods, but another story remains untold. The story of the women who made it happen. The women who are striving to stand on their own feet in their own individual manner.
It began in 2017, when a small sanitary pad-manufacturing machine was installed in Kathikhera with the help of Delhi-based NGO Action India. The Quint visited Kathikhera and its neighbouring village Soodna to meet the women, who have challenged the idea of shame associated with menstruation.
Shabana, an area coordinator with Action India, has been working in Kathikhera for more than 20 years now. She said:
“The pad project created a ruckus in the village. Cameras followed soon after the machines were installed. People also called the project illegal. They (people from the village) said they would not let us set the machine. We faced a lot of opposition.”
Eventually, a small factory was set up in Kathikhera, and they wanted to employ women.
Action India’s field employee Suman recalls the challenges they faced in the nascent stages. “People started laughing at us and questioning if a sanitary pad manufacturing machine would actually get installed in the village. In fact, we would joke among ourselves about it, about how we will make pads,” she added.
“The biggest achievement is that this is the first kind of employment opportunity in our village, especially for women. We were very excited that something has especially emerged for us. This is my first job. It was a really big deal to me.”Sneh, Employee
After success in Kathikhera, another machine was installed in September 2018 in Soodna, a neighbouring village 15 km away.
Today, the two units employ 7 women each, who work from 9am to 6 pm, six days a week, and earn Rs 2,000-2,500 per month.
But that’s not it.
Rakhi, a factory employee who manages the unit in Kathikhera, said that they pull extra hours on Sundays if they fail to achieve their target of manufacturing 600 pads per day.
Sushma, another employee, said she tries to skip her lunch break, so that she can wind up her work earlier.
“I tell them not to give me one-hour lunch break, so that I can leave early in order to finish my household chores. I have responsibilities at home. I have to look after my kids, my husband, in-laws and the cattle at home.”Sushma, Employee
Sushma’s day does not end there. She said that she enjoys going door-to-door to sell pads and explaining to young girls the benefits of using them. Still, she has not told her parents about what she does in her job.
“How will I show my face to my parents if they get to know about this? They will wonder what kind of work their daughter is doing,” Sushma said.
From facing opposition from the villagers to selling pads, a topic they can’t always discuss publicly, these women have come a long way. But they are often teased about their work, the women say.
“People know what we do but they still gossip about it. Young boys tease us. How do we retaliate? We keep hoping that they will stop gradually. It is embarrassing but not as much as it was earlier.”Anjali, Employee
Susheela, who is a field worker in Soodna, told The Quint: “People consider periods shameful. We cannot discuss them openly. People say that manufacturing pads is so shameful. They ask us if we aren’t ashamed of doing such work.”
“They taunt us by saying that we make pads. They keep throwing insults at us, so we don’t like it. They think we are doing something wrong because we go out to work.”Pooja, Employee
“How will they talk to their fathers about it (pads)? They may discuss such things with their friends, but why would they discuss such things with their fathers,” asked Rajendra Singh, a local.
However, Kanishk, another local, said he believes that the units should continue operating if it helps women. “They (pads) are safer for women as compared to cloth,” he added, conceding that he doesn’t know a lot about the issue.
Their story isn’t just about battling the stigma of menstruation. Some of them have another reason to work at the units – financial independence and contributing to household expenses.
Shivani, who is also taking her Board exams this year, wants to use her salary to fund her education and marriage.
“I don’t want to be a burden on my parents. I want to do something of my own.”Shivani, Employee
On the other hand, 18-year-old Rukhsana – who wishes to become a singer – spends most of her salary on snacks and whatever remains, she spends it on buying clothes for herself and her brothers.
Despite all the taunts, these women work from dawn to dusk to fulfil their aspirations, all the time, putting the spotlight back on menstruation.