Social Entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham – Real Padman of India

padman

It is acclaimed far and wide that behind every successful man, there is a woman. Behind this one man’s success however, was his relentless determination to never give up, till he found a solution to one of rural women’s most basic problem: menstrual hygiene. This is the story of real padman of India who became one of the greatest social entrepreneurs. It all started the day Muruganantham saw his wife looking for old rags and newspapers because she could not afford sanitary napkins. Growing up in a conservative society, he had no inkling of knowledge about this ‘women’s trouble.’ Soon he found out, almost every rural woman faced the same problem. With cotton being the base raw material, he wondered why sanitary napkins are as expensive as they are. Then he was to find out, the big corporations make about 40% profit from producing a napkin.

It is acclaimed far and wide that behind every successful man, there is a woman. Behind this one man’s success however, was his relentless determination to never give up, till he found a solution to one of rural women’s most basic problem: menstrual hygiene. This is the story of real padman of India who became one of the greatest social entrepreneurs. It all started the day Muruganantham saw his wife looking for old rags and newspapers because she could not afford sanitary napkins. Growing up in a conservative society, he had no inkling of knowledge about this ‘women’s trouble.’ Soon he found out, almost every rural woman faced the same problem. With cotton being the base raw material, he wondered why sanitary napkins are as expensive as they are. Then he was to find out, the big corporations make about 40% profit from producing a napkin.

About Real Padman of India

Thus started his long and lonely ordeal of producing a low cost hygienic alternative for the millions of rural women, who suffer from serious health issues as a result of menstrual unhygienic. Taboo subject as it is even among the urban crowds, he faced too many obstacles for his interest in the matter, in the rural parts of India where he lived. Some labeled him a ‘pervert,’ others thought his interest on the subject was an excuse for him to get friendly with women, his wife left him when the gossips became intolerable and after some time of research, he started studying used napkins, his mother left the house too.

Yet Arunachalam Muruganantham, the iconic Padman, is not someone whose success can be measured by awards and accolades. The path that he traveled saw his neighbors labeling him as a pervert, his wife leaving, his friends growing distant and his mother sobbing inconsolably, that her son had gone mad. His crime was that he kept trying to create sanitary napkins for women that would be as good as the branded ones, yet so cheap that the poor could afford to buy one.

This unusual turn of events started after his marriage to Shanthi in 1998. Then he learnt for the first time the predicament of millions of Indian women during their menstrual days. One day, he found his wife opting for dirty rags, to save the money that a pack of sanitary napkins cost. He bought a pack to gift his wife, and later himself got engrossed in observing one, wondering why something that mostly constituted of cotton would be so exorbitantly priced.

In a country where 300 million women cannot afford branded hygiene products and 1 in 5 girls stop going to school once menstruation starts, the taboo around the subject made the process even more difficult for a man. He made pads trying to make a replica of the ones sold in glossy packets, but could not find women to try them and give feedback. His wife got angry after sometime, sisters shied away, and female students that he approached in a medical college turned him down too. To use a napkin made by an unknown man and discuss further on it, is not something a common Indian girl is cut out for.

What’s worse, his already angry wife thought this to be his excuse to go running after college girls and sent him a notice for divorce. The village folk were no less creative. They doubted him to be an evil spirit who drank women’s blood after sunset, because there did not seem to be a possible explanation, why a man would be this obsessed about women’s menstruation!

Undeterred, Muruganantham continued. After two years of what he calls his ‘trial and error’ method, he found out that the napkins available in the market used pine bark wood pulp that made them absorb more fluid while remaining same in shape. These pads were (and still are) usually manufactured in imported machines that cost around 35million rupees, so he made his own local machine. He got his processed pine wood pulp from a Mumbai based supplier. This machine would grind, get rid of the fibres, give shape and sterilize these almost home-made napkins below ultraviolet and then package them for sale. And it would cost Rs. 65,000/-.

Rest, as they say, is history. From winning the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award to becoming Times magazine’s one of the top 100 influential people in the world, this social entrepreneur seems to have been acknowledged at long last, for his efforts and achievements and also became an inspiration for SMEs entrepreneurs in India.

Also Read Success Story of Dhirubhai Ambani

About Padman Movie

The beginnings of 2017 saw the ace Akshay Kumar announce his upcoming biographical film, Padman. As the masses get curious to learn who this Padman is, light is thrown once more on an Indian documentary made in 2013 that went on to win the world over as “an engaging, funny, heart-breaking story of the power of what one ordinary man can achieve.” It was called Menstrual Man. In 2014, the protagonist of this film was featured in the TIME magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in the World. And in 2016, the Government of India honored him with the Padma Shri.

Meeting with Real Padman

Muruganantham, who has lectured in various IITs all over India, adorned our SMBConnect last year in Coimbatore for a most interesting interactive session. People sat in rapt attention as he spoke in his signature English with a side touch of his charming sense of humor, about the necessity of ‘innovation’ in making any business thrive. He said there is no other way to success than trial and error. In his humble and straightforward words, he said learning begins with admitting “I don’t know.” An ardent believer in starting from scratch, his perspective left an impression on every mind, when he encouraged upcoming entrepreneurs to look for a problem and make their business a means of solving it. That according to him, is a sure shot way of running a profitable business while contributing towards the betterment of society.

Presently, only 7% Indian women use sanitary napkins. The rest get by with clothes and even leaves, sand, ashes, dust and dirt, making infections common and the risk of associated cancer more frequent. Muruganantham is resolute that in his lifetime he will make India a 100% sanitary napkin using country. And on doing this, he plans to generate 1 million employments in the rural parts of India.

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