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Arunachalam Muruganantham: The Real PadMan

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Arunachalam Muruganantham is school dropout from a poverty-stricken family in Tamil Nadu’s, who has become social crusader tackling one of India’s most menacing health crisis, which is menstrual hygiene. Muruganantham just could not bear to see his wife use a dirty rag for her periods. And today he is, helping millions of Indian rural women afford low-cost sanitary napkins.

He was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014, tagged as India’s menstruation man. His story has now also been etched in the halls of fiction by popular faces of the creative world — first in Twinkle Khanna’s book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad and on Friday with the release of Akshay Kumar’s film #PadMan.

He does not hesitate in the slightest to accept that his journey towards making the world’s first low-cost sanitary pad making machine got rolling only because of the whims of a newly married man to impress his wife, of course. He goes on to tell that how he found his wife hiding a dirty rag cloth that Murugananthan would not even use to clean his scooter. He also shared how at the age of 29, he touched a sanitary pad for the first time and started researching if the product is really worth the money the foreign companies are charging from the people. The results of his research are well known to us now.

He also had the opportunity to sell his invention off to the industry bigwigs for billions of money. But instead, he chose to sell his machine only to underprivileged women of rural India, providing village after village not only a low-cost sanitary pad manufacturing set-up but a consistent source of livelihood for its women.

In 2006, when his innovation won an award from the then President Pratibha Patil, his life changed forever. His machines now run in 4,800 points in India and in 29 other countries. His story has appeared in several foreign language publications—Hebrew being one of them. It’s only natural that it be made into a feature film.

Pad Man, directed by R Balki, featuring Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, and Sonam Kapoor, presents Muruganantham’s journey from a school drop-out to a social entrepreneur.

The story is set in Madhya Pradesh and not Tamil Nadu. Muruganantham feels that only then will the cause have a pan-India reach. He did have Tamil filmmakers approach him, but he did not want the film to be confined to one part of the country.

He had to face lots of trouble. In a tribal village in the Nilgiris, women believed that if they used a sanitary towel, their eyes will be taken away. He had to convince them a lot. And it finally paid off.

Today lakhs of women have benefitted from him. He is truly a role model for Indians. Akshay Kumar has rightly called him a real superhero. Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention is widely praised as a key step in changing women’s lives in India. Muruganantham’s machine creates jobs and income for many women, and affordable pads enable many more women to earn their livelihood during menstruation. In addition to his own outreach, Muruganantham’s work has also inspired many other entrepreneurs to enter this area, including some that propose to use waste banana fibre or bamboo for the purpose.

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