I had this opportunity to interact at length with Mr Muruganandam, from the South Indian manufacturing hub Coimbatore. He had been featured in the press in a small way for being the ‘inventor’ of affordable sanitary napkins. He had been bestowed the president’s award for innovation, and there were some news stories on that photo-opp too.
Between then and now, his story has been told time and again, in a business media that can’t get enough of stories celebrating ‘social entrepreneurship’. After all, it’s a fantastic story of an innovator driven by the need he saw around him. The inspiration came about when he noticed his wife trying to recede invisibly into the backyard with a rag in hand. She was handling her menstrual period like millions of women around the world are, even today. There are lesser of them today, thanks to Muruganandam. From material to method to machinery and finally, modus operandi (self–help groups), he innovated on multiple parameters to empower the female population with better hygiene at an affordable cost.
The most ingenious yet obvious aspect of his innovation, to me, beyond the machine and method, seemed the distribution and marketing magic that the self help group model enabled. At the time, instead of the Rs 20 lakh (or so, it’s been a while!) required to import a machine that manufactured napkins, he made one at a fifth (or so) of the cost. It worked wonders, but churned out smaller numbers. So more machines were required to handle a larger market. That also meant more hands to manufacture, and more women turning entrepreneurs. Smaller markets also meant direct selling, something desperately needed when evangelising a category, especially a sensitive personal care category, among rural women. His innovation is spreading across the world.
Let us not forget that he was and is a proud Indian man, who had the welfare of women on his mind. There are many of us like him, and many others amongst us who don’t treat or view women the way we should. On either side of this divide are fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, friends, colleagues and sundry. There exists another half of India that we’re not viewing in its entirety.
There are many women out there whose voices will never be heard, but whose voices need to be amplified. Unfortunately, they are not. That’s a reality.
The woman who shouts ‘bastard’ after banging her car into you in the city’s fast lanes will be heard, and she is a reality. The rag picker lady who gets raped each night on city roads too is a reality. The rich socialite house wife who gets beaten up at home is also a reality.
The woman who makes false allegations against a male colleague under the pretext of sexual harassment is a reality too. If there is a possibility of consensual participation, and its use thereafter to blackmail the other partner, the action taken must be harsher – because, it is injustice to a society that erupts in anger when one of its sisters is violated.
In the case of willing participation for personal gain, professional or monetary, we need to respect that the woman (or man) has a choice. But neither should have the choice of turning real-life-victim after the role play. The most proficient lie detector should be exercised. And the punishment for the liar should be dire.
I pray for the honour of the women of this country. I also pray that the number of men dishonoured because of false charges does not increase. There have been a few, at least in the work place.