An IAS officer from Bihar, Harjot Kaur Bhamra, is being slammed on social media after she rebuked a female student for asking for sanitary pads free of cost. The student had asked, “When the government is providing us school uniforms, scholarships and so many things, why can’t it provide Whisper of ₹20-30?” Bhamra, who is the managing director of Bihar Women Development Corporation, retorted, “Today, you are asking for sanitary pads, tomorrow you will ask for condoms. Why do you need to take things from the government? This thinking is wrong.”
Ironically, Kaur made this appalling remark in a workshop on ‘Sashakt Beti, Samriddh Bihar: Towards enhancing the value of girls’ organised by State Women and Child Development Corporation in Patna. As expected, Bhamra’s comment took the internet by storm, after a video of the interaction found its way to social media.
Kaur’s comment raises many compelling questions. Why did the officer rebuke the student for requestion access to sanitary pads at a lower cost? Aren’t sanitary pads A basic need for every menstruating woman in our country? Then what’s wrong with women asking for free sanitary pads? Moreover, why did Bhamra relate sanitary pads with condoms? Isn’t this an attempt to sexualise pads and hence stigmatise them? Besides, what is wrong if the government provides condoms at a low cost or for free? Aren’t condoms necessary for family planning, women’s sexual health and controlling the population of the country?
First of all, it is shocking that a woman IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer reacted so insensitively to the question of providing sanitary pads at a lower cost. It showed her lack of empathy towards the problems that women face in our society, especially those coming from underprivileged backgrounds.
The fact that this incident happened during a workshop organised for empowering women further tells a lot about the authorities’ hollow promises to empower girls of the state and country. Government is ready to promise anything for getting votes, so why can’t it step up and fulfill basic requirements that impact the health of millions of women in the country?
Yes, condoms and sanitary pads must be provided for free, not even at lower costs. Both are crucial for women’s health and help in their empowerment.
Suggested Reading: Bleed Blue: What I Think Of Sanitary Napkin ads As A Boy
Lack of sanitary pads is one of the major reasons why women are falling sick and losing their lives. According to a report, illness caused by lack of basic sanitation and hygiene during periods is the cause of the death of 8,00,000 women. It is the fifth biggest killer of women in India.
Although in 2018, the government made sanitary pads tax-free, the average cost of sanitary pads in India is between five to 12 rupees per pad which is a luxury for 800 million girls living on 155 rupees per day.
In such conditions, is it not the government’s responsibility to ensure the menstrual hygiene of every woman? If menstrual hygiene is not ensured, then how will women survive to be empowered?
When it comes to condoms, they are essential for preventing sexually transmitted diseases that are affecting women largely and men too. According to a study, out of the 300 million people are affected by STIs world over, 30 million are in India. Women make up for 40 percent this number in our country. Condoms are also necessary for avoiding unwanted pregnancies and the risk caused due to abortions. And as we all are very well aware condoms are a basic need to control the population of our country which might become the country with the biggest population in the world very soon.
Despite being so crucial to our well-being why are condoms and pads mentioned in hushed voices? Well, it is social stigma that stops people in power to speak about condoms or pads- both of which are related to two bodily functions that no one likes to talk about openly, even today- sex and periods.
In our society, pads are sold by wrapping them in paper or in black polybags as if women are smuggling an illegal good. While condoms are sold and purchased using alternative names. People who buy pads and condoms are looked at as if they are committing some crime. And because of this shame and stigma, many women and men avoid undergoing the awkwardness.
Keeping this in mind what India needs is its educated officers leading the conversation from the front. Instead of passing sly remarks, Bhamra needs to re-educate herself on why condoms and pads need to be free for all and what a crucial part it plays in wellness of the very women and men whose interests she is expected to safeguard.
Views expressed are the author’s own.