This story is an unbelievable mix of love, curiosity, innovation and resilience. It features Arunachalam Murunganatham, the poor son of hand-loom weavers in South India. In the year 1998, Murunga discovers that his wife is tackling her monthly visitor (menstrual cycle) in an unsanitary manner by using old rags because she could not afford sanitary towels for herself.
Arunachalam Murunganatham shows himself as an exceptional man as he seeks to impress his wife by producing her sanitary pads himself. His initial assumption that it would be a simple task was soon changed as his first pad; a rectangular cut out of wads of cotton wool the size of the pads sold in shops; was deemed useless by his wife who tested it out. Consumed by a need to find out where he’d gone wrong, Murunga tested and experimented with different materials but this proved time-consuming as he had to wait a month before his wife could test each sample.
He then moved on to enlist the help of medical students at a university college close to him but the girls where understandably too shy to give him detailed feedback. Backed into a corner, he decided to begin testing the pads on himself; he built a uterus bladder, filled it up with animal blood, fixed it to his hip and via a tube attached the artificial uterus to the sanitary pad in his underpants. By pressing on the bladder, he mimicked a woman’s menstrual flow.
As can be imagined, he soon started to smell foul and his clothes were often stained with blood, leading his neighbors to think he is either ill or perverted. After a while, his wife left him to go and live with her mother. Still Murunga did not let his ambition go, the cause had become bigger than his wife as he had discovered through research that ten to twenty percent of Indian girls and women could not access proper menstrual hygiene products. He had made up his mind to produce low-cost sanitary pads for girls and women in India.
It took him two years to find the right material, another four years to develop a machine that helped effective mass production, but Murunga was finally successful. His machines are cheap costing the equivalent of $950 compared to the cost of importing machines which lies at $500,000. He refuses to sell the machines to corporations but instead sells them to women’s groups and schools who can then produce their own pads and sell the surplus. He’s sold over 1,300 machines across 27 states in India and has begun exportation of the machine to other developing countries all over the world.
Arunachalam Murunganatham is currently one of India’s foremost social entrepreneurs, he’s been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014 by TIME and he is back with his wife.