Beaureaucrat turned Padwoman of India

                                                                A journey of creating Pad men and Pad women across India amidst covid by Aman Preet , IRS 
                                                                                                                
 Whenever there has been a disease outbreak it has been reported that women of vulnerable sections of society are impacted the most. There have been several reports which show that impacts of COVID-19 have adversely impacted women from weaker sections of the society. Globally emphasis is being given on importance of personal hygiene in combating the spread of coronavirus. For women personal hygiene includes menstrual hygiene as well, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on a major part of the menstruating population of India. Lockdown, movement restrictions, health facility closures, closures of schools and colleges  have affected the  access to sexual and reproductive health services along with availability of sanitary products. The economic fallout has also impacted access to sanitary pads and has impacted the physical and mental health of those who menstruate.

In these times when we are going through ahumanitarian crisis , Aman Preet a 2010 batch IRS Officer along with the help of her family, friends, fellow civil servants, volunteers, NGO’s, foundations, and, entrepreneurs has reached to 17 Indian states and has provided menstrual products to the needy and underprivileged women. The drive was started by Sangini Saheli Trust founded during COVID-19 by her friend Priyal Bhardwaj. The issue came to Aman Preet’s notice through an article in a local newspaper in which it was mentioned that with the closing of schools and colleges, the subsidised or free supply of sanitary pads has also been stopped. Female students in fact, wrote to the administration to help them by supplying them this ‘necessary item’ along with other essentials. Many social organisations and individuals came forward to whole heartedly help the poor and the vulnerable sections of society by providing them ration, masks, sanitisers but sanitary pads were not considered important enough to be provided. Shortage of supply and the hike in rates was the major problem during lockdown. When Sangini Saheliprovided pads to the construction workers working in Lady Hardinge College with the help of Aman Preet’s batchmate EishSinghal,IPS and Pragya Anand, IPS ,the women told that this shortage of supply had made them resort to their old ways of using clothes .With the help of AkanshaSingh, wife of Mr. Alok Singh, IPS Commissioner of Police Gautam Budh Nagar distribution of hygiene kits containing sanitary pads was done in several slums and rural pockets of Uttar Pradesh.

While the world is shifting to a newer normal every day, millions of us are not able to survive the magnitude of this change. The pandemic is not only a health crisis but an economic, financial, security and also a humanitarian crisis.   As part of an initial response towards the fight against COVID-19 and making a difference in the lives of the migrant women workers who were travelling back from bus stops and railway stations, pads were provided to them . This small step taken initially has now become a Pan India initiative. Her crusade has provided over 12.5 lakh packets of sanitary pads in over 17 states of India.

With her help Sangini  Saheli has provided  relief supplies of sanitary pads and NGO-Ek Prayas is still providing other hygiene essentials to the patients and volunteers fighting with COVID-19 at world’s largest COVID Care facility – Sardar Patel COVID Centre and Hospital at Radha SoamiSatsang Beas, Chattarpur. Their efforts were appreciated by DM, B.M.Mishra, IAS .Till date more than 2000 patients have been recovered from this facility which include women

In Punjab, Hon’ble ADGP Shri. P.K. Sinha Sir supported the initiative and facilitated the timely distribution of menstrual products in women cells of all the 14 Punjab Prisons. Similarly DIG Shri. Madhur Verma, IPS posted in Arunachal Pradesh facilitated the distribution in all 20 mahila thanas there. Meerut jail and Tihar jail were also provided the supplies. In Assam, her batchmate Rocktim Saikia and his wife Dr. Pallavi along with IRS officers facilitated the Relief supplies of sanitary pads in Sarusajai Quarantine Centre, Guwahati. Several shelter homes, ashrams,observatory homes, kusht ashrams, homes for specially abled women and girls have been sent supplies of sanitary napkins during lockdown.                        

                           
This journey was full of many challenges also .Some people refused to distribute pads expressing disregard for ‘impure’ items to people even refusing to take ration if sanitary napkins were given along with it. Women saying that they need to take permission from her husbands and in laws to buy this,some women taking the supplies for their daughters and telling “didi yeh mehngi cheez hai ,bachi use kar legi,mere liye kapda hi theek hai” and telling horrendous stories of how they were using the discarded clothes of house to stop the menstrual blood to spill over .
        
In Bengal, with the help of her batchmates Atul Kumar Pandey and Nivedita Prasad  posted there,hygiene menstrual products have been provided in Sundarbans, Perulia and several slums across Bengalafter Amphan created havoc.  The women told that their every little thing was washed away in Amphan and not even a single piece of dry cloth was there with them to use to make even a cloth pad. Many girls told that as now their parents have become jobless as they were daily wagers and now they have no means to buy pads .   
                
When  Aman Preet  Came to know about the massive fire that broke out in the slums of South-East Delhi’s Tughlakabad area on 25th May 2020 , she along with her husband Sh. Dikshit Passy went there to provide them the relief supplies of pads provided by Rotary Club Of Delhi Metro. They were told by the women there that around 1500 shanties were burnt ,leaving hundreds of people homeless.  With the support of Rajendra Prasad Meena,(DCP), South East around 500 packets of Sanitary napkins were distributed .Women there touched Aman Preet’s feet and said, “Didi no one has thought of providing this to us since the lockdown has started. We were provided ration but not this .”
                      
Similar story was narrated by Aman Preet’s mother Smt. Neeru Kalsi who is AMO in Ludhiana after organising an awareness session on importance of personal and menstrual hygiene in times of COVID in slums of Basti Jodhewal in Ludhiana .She told that one woman was wearing saree with stains of menstrual blood . Lack of proper sanitation facilties and use of community toilets in many areas across country make the women more vulnerable to the diseases related to their menstrual health.
        
People of rural India still feel shame in acknowledging the fact that healthy periods are  the reason behind reproduction. Instead of considering  it as a gift from God, a virtue by which she will be a  ‘MOTHER’, it is considered to be a dirty and impure process. Mere mention of periods, menstrual cycle is considered  a taboo. Still the  cultural and social influences are so strong  and create a hurdle when we try to impart  knowledge on this subject. Aman Preet’sinspector Satbir Dahiya and his wife Sangeeta who provided pads in Sonipat and surrounding areas told that understanding related to topics like puberty, menstruation and reproductive health is very low in many areas. When the drive was taken to Narnaul by Nishant , many girls told that they are forced to skip school during the days they menstruate as they fear that odour of menstrual bloodd or stains on their clothes will stigmatise them .Her batchmate Gunjan Varshney ,IRS told that while discussing the problems faced by women in Ashoka Garden,Bhopal she came across many misconceptions being taught to the girls like some of them asked her whether to take bath or not during their periods. Munmun Sharma ,IRS also created awareness in Bijapuri, ,Jabalpur and told the tribal women of the area that bathing during menstruation is very essential and they should not  compromise their hygiene during this time of month .
                
In Ayodhya, Ankita Singh ,IRS who lead the campaign told that all women who were provided pads were asking for a newspaper or something to hide the pads. Women told that “masik dharm “, is still considered to be dirty and impure and they are not allowed to do puja . They wrapped the sanitary pad packets in their sarees or dupattas while carrying them back home . Ankita Pandey ,IRS when distributed pads to the women in Vadodra she told that many women didn’t knew about what healthy periods are . When we reached Doda district in Jammu ,Sanya khan the volunteer there told that in some pockets the women held pads for the first time and were taught how to use them . When Aman Preet reached to the sex workers of Delhi at G.B.Road to provide them pads she was told that pads have not been provided to them since the lockdown started and now they had no means to buy these luxury items .Similar story was narrated by the sex workers residing in Hawla ,Madhya Pradesh where the supplies reached with the help of her batchmate Anup Jain,IRS. In Buldhana, Maharashtra the drive was taken forward by her friend Suman Chandra ,IAS . In Giridh ,Jharkahnd a volunteer of the same village Shyam Prajapti who approachEd Aman Preet on her Facebook account initiated the movement and told that as still there is  lack of awareness on menstrual health amongst the women of this village he engaged local doctors also to spread awareness. In Patiala ,Aarti Verma,SSPO is spreading awareness on the topic and on her birthday she raised funds and bought pads and distributed in rural pockets of Patiala .Her friends carried forward this initiative to Uttrakhandand Jharkhand also . In Hyderabad ,Dr.Sandhya Rani w/o Aman Preet ‘s batchmate  Shri.Suresh Babu,IRS working in Mahashhwaram Mandal Primary Health Centre Distibuted sanitary napkins to the underprivileged women  ,migrant women of Dubbacherla village of Maheshhwaram Mandal along with other remote areas during lockdown .
                              
In India ,though  policymakers have now listed pads as an essential commodity  but still its accessibility and reach is considered as a luxury. There has been a huge impact on menstrual hygiene products and also the access to women healthcare essentials has remained limited since the beginning of this crisis . Further the taboos and myths associated with menstruation makes it difficult for the people still lingering in old age customs and traditions to talk about it openly. Lack of awareness, un-affordability and age-old taboos and restrictions force women to think that it’s unimportant to prioritise their health & hygiene and are forced to use unhygienic methods to cope with menstruation using old cloth and rags which are not only extremely unhealthy but denotes a lack of dignity to their entire existence within a society that advocates equality in the 21st century .It is extremely important that we understand the wholesome issue about menstrual hygiene and women healthcare and  how important it is for a menstruator to have an easy access to menstrual products . There have been multiple bright steps taken in the right direction by government, volunteers and other support groups which have come up during this Global Pandemic .There is urgent need to be inclusive, sensitive and to organize the administrative efforts along with the efforts of our civil society to address to such emerging problems .
Her initiative of starting conversation on the topic is the small step towards ending Period Poverty.   
 
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