The First Man in the world to wear a Sanitary Napkin – Arunachalam Muruganantham

When Muruganantham realized that his wife was using rags during her monthly periods, he advised her to stop using them as they were unhygienic and instead use sanitary napkins. But when she lashed out saying they would not be able to afford even for milk if all the women of the house used sanitary napkin, he was momentarily shocked.

Early discoveries and researches

Curious and clearly stunned, he went on to buy sanitary napkin from a local chemist. When he saw sanitary napkins for the first time, he realized that we are being looted. It was at this point he decided to make low cost sanitary napkins for his wife.

Around 70% of women in India say their family cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins and only 12% of menstruating women among the 255 million in India use sanitary napkins, according to a finding by AC Nielsen for a study called “Sanitary Protection: Every Woman’s Health Right”

The next course of actions he takes; his research and stumbles along led to the invention of affordable sanitary napkins, which today are used in many parts of rural India. Along the way he was sniggered at, accused of being a pervert and a mad man. His wife left him returning to her mother’s home not being able to tolerate his obsession over sanitary napkins. His mom believed there was black magic at work putting his family in jeopardy. However, nothing deterred him.

This is the story of a one man’s mission to simply invent sanitary napkins that were affordable for the rural women.

Murugananatham deduced that sanitary napkins were made of cotton. So, he simply bought some cotton from a local mill and cut them into the shape of sanitary napkins before wrapping them with viscose cloth. Now came the time to test the napkins he made and who better than his wife to test it out. However, when his wife used the napkin made by her husband she declared that this was the worst napkin she ever used.

The stumbling years

The result became puzzling to Muruganantham who had used the best cotton available. He continued his research using various varieties of cotton and tested the quality of sanitary napkins with water. He could not wait every month for his wife’s menstrual cycle, so he decided to use his sisters as subjects. However, this did not bode well for him. Not only were they embarrassed by his constant nagging and queries regarding menstrual cycle which is still a taboo to talk about in rural areas, they asked his wife to stop their brother from pestering them.

Muruganatham decided that only way to move forward was to enroll volunteers who will give an honest feedback on his napkins. Since he couldn’t find volunteers within his village, he approached the students of Medical College in Coimbatore, approximately 30 kilometers from his village. He found a dozen of girls who were willing to be subjects to his research. However, they seemed reluctant to answer his questions. Hence, he formulated a questionnaire, which he translated to English from Tamil. Only when he went back to the college to collect the questionnaire he found that most of the girls hadn’t taken his research seriously. Muruganantham understood that he cannot depend on them to get the answers for his research.

The First Man in the world to wear a Sanitary Napkin

It was then that Muruganantham, who was living in a conservative village in South India, did the unthinkable. He decided to test napkins on himself. He used goat blood and filled it in a football (to function like a uterus)and he tied this artificial uterus under his clothes and squeezed it throughout the day. However, this did not help with his research. Worse, people in his village spotted him cleaning blood from his garments and believed him to have sexually transmitted disease. He knew he will be banished from his village, so Muruganantham bowed out and move out from his village.

All these pit falls, however, did not discourage Muruganantham in his mission. It was also during the same time, his wife who was jealous of him interacting with young girls separated from him and his mother coming home to find used sanitary napkins spread out in his home moved out.

Demystifying the raw material

At the same time, Muruganantham sent commercial napkins to laboratories to find the raw materials used. After a couple of years of continuous research he found out that the cellulose used in sanitary napkin came from the bark of a pine tree.

Muruganantham was a school dropout, but to talk to multinationals and persuade them to send raw materials of sanitary napkins, he learnt English and impersonated as a mill owner who was interested in starting a sanitary napkin unit here in India. After many persistent communications he received compressed wood fibre from U.S based companies.

Battle half won

Inspite of finding the raw material, Muruganandham had a long way to go to produce affordable sanitary napkins. He had to find a way to convert the wood fibre into cellulose. However, to do that, he needed a machine that cost a fortune. No wonder, only multinationals controlled the sanitary napkin industry in India, he deduced.

Finally,finding the answer

After over four years of trial and error, he finally found a way to de-fibre the raw material to cellulose, which are eventually used in sanitary napkins. The machine he used was a much simpler version of what the sanitary napkin producing giants use. He quickly got the intellectual property rights. He did not, however, sell his patent to make money.

What he did then is even more remarkable. As his machine needs a lower investment, he sells them to smaller units in rural parts of the country where women from self-help groups and NGOs find it possible to make and use low cost sanitary pads themselves. These units also have created jobs for innumerable women and empowered them.

Since then, he reconciled with his wife and gained numerous accolades on his noble mission to make India a cent percent sanitary napkin using country, which we hope is a reality soon.