Daughter Of A Blacksmith Prefers To Be The Padwoman of Rural India Rather Than A Scientist In USA
“I did not use sanitary pads until the age of 26. I didn't even know about it. At that time, neither did I have money, nor information,” Maya Vishwakarma's recent statement to PTI stunned me. And I decided to interview her for SHEROES.
Why? Because this 36-year-old biologist left her cancer-research project in California at the US and embarked on a mission, now called Sukarma Foundation, that not only manufactures low-cost sanitary pads but also spreads awareness about menstrual hygiene among tribal women in her village, Mehragaon. This is the place Maya belongs to located in the Narsinghpur district of Madhya Pradesh, India.
Maya at work in Sukarma Foundation
So not wasting time, let’s get onto the chat with Maya, who is now famous as PAD-JIJI (Pad Sister) among the young school and college girls in MP, as well as is gaining popularity for her amazing work as the PAD-WOMAN of India.
What made you take this challenging step to change the lives of so many girls and women?
My mother never taught me about menstruation. It was my aunt who advised me to use cloth pads, but she never taught me that these need to be washed properly and used carefully. As a result, I developed a major vaginal infection due to which I suffered a lot. You won't believe that women in remote villages of Madhya Pradesh even use husk and sand during menstruation to absorb the blood flow. Can you imagine the kind of infections they must be facing? I shuddered to know this fact and much more.
Only 24% women in Madhya Pradesh use sanitary pads and I decided to empower them with the correct knowledge about menstruation and its hygiene.
Maya educating women in a village in MP.
I have read that women were threatened to not meet you, girls were not sent to schools when their families heard you were arriving to educate them. How did you handle that challenge?
It is really tough to get girls to talk about this topic and tougher to talk to women. I drive alone at times from the worst kind of roads or say rugged tracks. But every time a girl comes back to me to ask more, every time a woman reaches out to hug me saying how her life is better now, every time I get a positive feedback - it keeps me going. Their smiles, keep me going. Former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s philanthropic life inspires me. A life lived for oneself will never be a fulfilling life.
Maya with a group of college girls, after her lecture on menstrual hygiene.
I heard you got inspired by Padman Muruganantham to get into manufacturing low-cost pads? Tell us about this project.
Yes, I met him through a close friend. He motivated me to stay put in my mission. But not many know that he no longer manufactures pads, he makes machines that can be bought and modified to use them. So I decided to manufacture low-cost pads which were at par with the quality in the market. I procured a similar machine, modified it and began manufacturing pads.
You will be delighted to know that many village women have joined me in this work and we can produce up to 2000 pads per day! We use the SAP polymer sheet (unlike cotton) which converts blood flow to gel, absorbing it immediately. Same technology, at the cost of just Rs 20-25 for a pack, unlike Rs 60-80 of the branded ones. But we distribute them free of cost, we make no profit. Some noble people donate us the money to manufacture it or sponsor a village or school. That’s how we work.
I appeal to the government to make sanitary pads tax free since this is a basic requirement for every girl, every woman. Women who cannot afford these are suffering a lot in the absence.
And where did the money come from, for this landmark effort?
I instantly put all my savings into it and later we started getting crowd support. Slowly and gradually people are coming out to support this much-needed work in the field of menstrual hygiene.
Maya traversing a village on foot to spread the message of menstrual hygiene.
What is the latest episode involving a letter to actor Akshay Kumar, who played ‘Padman’ in his recent film?
(Laughs) He is a great actor who did a wonderful film but his work has to reach where the awareness is much needed - the villages. And not just women, it is the men, the boys who must watch this film to sensitise them about the menstrual health of women. I wrote a letter to take his film to each village of India where menstruation is still considered a taboo and that outlook needs to change.
Pad-Jiji, Pad-woman, menstrual hygiene crusader. But who is the real Maya?
(Smiles) She is a simple daughter of a poor blacksmith who grew up in a small village in MP. She has no big dreams and only one wish, "No woman should go through what I went through, in the absence of lack of information.”
What are your thoughts about menstrual hygiene? Tell us in the comments below and don't forget to share this story, because every share means you are taking Maya's mission forward.
H*****Kudos to sister Maya.. Indeed a great service..
M*****It is a commendable work, but I believe this all is a gimmick to become a member of parliament in the next elections. If she will keep working for welfare of the people without longing for any political consideration, then it will be considered a great act. I pray that I get proven wrong and she keep on working like this, otherwise, It will only end up saddening the people who at the moment are enthralled to see such a great movement.
A*****It's really good cause. I appreciate her work. We need more women like her. Hats off!