Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 34, Dated August 29, 2009
The Pad That Does
A school dropout invents a sanitary napkin
machine that is changing the lives of thousands
of women across India. PC VINOJ KUMAR reports
SISTERS VIJAYA and Latha in the
Coimbatore city of Tamil
Nadu were earning paltry
salaries in private jobs. Last
November, they pooled in Rs 85,000 and
bought a local inventor’s machine that
manufactures sanitary napkins.
“We read of it in a Tamil magazine
and decided to plunge into the business,”
says Latha. Today, they earn Rs 5,000 a
month selling the napkins that have
become a hit with women in the city and
the countryside. Selling under the brand
name ‘Touch Free’, the sisters produce
8,000 packets a month. Each pack contains
eight sanitary napkins. Women in
their area purchase directly from them,
while salesgirls sell the napkins at
homes, offices and colleges.
|Each machine makes
120 napkins an hour.
The invention caters to
2.5 lakh women in India
Not far from their home, retired
school teacher Rajeswari has set up her
own unit, too. “These napkins are thicker
than those sold in the shops,” she says.
“They are specially designed for rural
women who work in the fields, as one
pad can last a whole day.”
This low-cost sanitary napkin manufacturing
machine is the invention of 47-
year-old A Muruganantham, a Class 10
dropout who is now making waves
across India. With its capacity to produce
120 napkins per hour, such machines
are now catering to at least 2.5 lakh women and girls. Already, some 100
machines have been installed across
India, 29 of them in Haryana alone.
Entrepreneurs in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra
Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand, too,
have set up units after buying the
machines from Muruganantham.
|A school of his own Muruganthamís machine
is taking sanitary pads to
PHOTOS: SENTHIL KUMARAN
|Care free The machine
has improved sanitation and
is spurring rural women into
In Uttarakhand, a government company,
the Uttarakhand Parvatiya Aajeevika
Sanvardhan, has begun a project
using this machine at a village in the
Tehri district. Many women and girls
there have started using sanitary napkins
for the first time. “It has helped upgrade
the hygiene of the rural women,” says
Vinita Negi, an executive with the venture.
As a micro-enterprise, it has also
provided employment to eight women.
Across Uttarakhand, some 12 machines
have been installed.
Despite his invention’s huge success,
Muruganantham refuses to sell the patent
for his machine and turned down a blank
cheque from a private company. He says
he wants to use his invention for promoting
hygiene among rural and urban poor
women. In rural India, Muruganantham
claims, most women use a cloth contraption
as a sanitary pad, which is unhygienic
and a known cause for bringing on diseases
such as cervical cancer.
lectures at business
schools. He has won an
award from IIT Madras
In 2006, IIT (Madras) awarded the first prize to Muruganantham in a contest for
innovating for betterment of society. He
often lectures at business schools. Last
year, he spoke at a meeting of innovators
from across the country held at the Indian
Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.
Muruganantham’s family struggled to
make ends meet after his father passed
away. For some years he worked in a
welding shop as a helper. Later, he set up
a small steel fabrication workshop in
Coimbatore. He invented the sanitary
napkin machine after nearly four years of
painstaking research. It took him almost
two years to realise that the padding used
in sanitary napkins was made of pine
wood pulp and not ordinary cotton.
“My family thought I had gone mad
when I began my experiments,” he says.
Initially, he distributed the napkins for
free, and collected them after use to see
if they worked.
“My mother left me. My sisters started
avoiding me.” But now, everyone is proud
of Muruganantham’s success.