Chaya Kakde, a social worker from Maharashtra, has been on hunger strike since Wednesday, the 21st of June. She’s joined by five other women from her women’s self-help organisation, who work to provide sanitary napkins at affordable rates to women in rural areas.
The women on strike have five demands: that sanitary napkins should be available at ration shops, GST on sanitary napkins should be zero, sanitary napkins should be provided free of cost to women with uterus cancer, the government should subsidize sanitary napkins made by women’s self-help groups, and the Maharashtra government should install sanitary pad vending machines in schools, like Kerala has.
Their demands are reasonable and necessary, especially considering that sanitary napkins are taxed under GST while sindoor and bangles are considered essentials for women, and are therefore not. A report says that Kakde’s group attempted an experiment wherein they distributed sanitary pads free to women, and after they used them for six months, found that most were reluctant to go back to using cloth. The rising cost of pads would discourage rural women from using them as they would be unaffordable.
The protesters hope the government will listen to them, but are prepared to move their protest to the Jantar Mantar if their demands aren’t heeded by the 30th of June. So far, not a single government representative has come to meet the protesters on hunger strike in Mumbai.