Arunachalam Muruganantham is a social entrepreneur from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India. He is the inventor of a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine and is credited for innovating grassroots mechanisms for generating awareness about traditional unhygienic practices around menstruation in rural India.
The idea of making sanitary napkins first struck him a decade ago when he once saw his wife trying to steal a piece of dirty cloth into the bathroom. He later found out that she used it during menstruation.
The first sanitary napkin he made was cotton wrapped in a medical cloth which he gave to his wife and asked for her feedback. He was disappointed when she said that it was useless and that she was going back to using that piece of dirty cloth.
For more feedback he gave napkins to girls in his locality, but he did not get frank responses from them instead they avoided him. Arunachalum understood that girls were too shy and uncomfortable to talk about menstruation to a man.
He started using the napkin himself. He wore a napkin, tied a football bladder full of goat’s blood to my waist and attached a pipe to it. But this technique did not work either.
His mother made a hue and cry. She thought I had gone mad after seeing his experiments. She left him and went to stay with my sisters. Even his wife left him for days due gossips about him in the the locality.
After continuous failure almost dropping his idea one day he asked the medical college girls to collect their used sanitary napkins and keep them in a corner in one packet. He collected these napkins and opened them in his backyard.
What he found was a thick sheet. he tore the sheet and saw that it was made of fibres. That’s when he realized the importance of fibre in pads. The fibres helped the pads absorb the fluid while retaining shape.
Imported machines that made the pads cost ₹35 million. Now we know why sanitary pads are costly in the market. He made a low cost machine which was only ₹65000. Muruganantham decided devise a low-cost machine that could be operated with minimal training. He also found that jute fibre is one of the best replacements for cotton as healthy production of jute in eastern India. He sourced the Jute fibre and processed pine wood pulp from a supplier in Mumbai.
In 2006, he visited IIT Madras to show his idea and receive suggestions. They registered his invention for the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award; it won the award through which he received funding to set up his factory, Jayaashree Industries.The machine has been praised for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, and his commitment to social aid has earned him several awards.
As a result, women’s groups or schools can buy his machine, produce their own sanitary pads, and sell the surplus. In this way, Muruganantham’s machine has created jobs for women in rural India. He has started a revolution in his own country, selling 1,300 machines to 27 states, and has recently begun exporting them to developing countries all over the world.
Under the aegis of his organization Jayashree industries, there are 4500 sanitary pad making factories operating nationwide.
In 2014, TIME magazine placed him in the list of 100 Most Influential People In The World. Two years later, in 2016, he received the Padma Shri.
A Muruganantham believes that big business is parasitic, like a mosquito, whereas he prefers the lighter touch, like that of a butterfly. “A butterfly can suck honey from the flower without damaging it.”