People Are Sending Sanitary Pads to Indian PM Narendra Modi to Protest 'Luxury' Tax

Sanitary pads India
Indian students hold posters and sanitary napkins during a protest over a 12 percent tax on sanitary pads as part of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Kolkata on June 16, 2017. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

Indian campaigners are sending 1,000 sanitary pads to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in protest over the government's decision to apply a 12 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the items.

Activists argue that the move will further lead women and girls in rural areas, already struggling to afford sanitary products, to use other items during their menstrual cycle, putting their health at risk. The tax was introduced last year, as part of the country's revision of its tax system.

Students and campaigners in the city of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh state, hope their gesture will make the government revert its decision. Women and girls will write messages conveying their views on the menstrual cycle before the pads are sent to Modi.

"Women use things during their menstrual days which is fatal to them. Instead of giving subsidy, it has been placed under luxury item," activist Hari Mohan told Asian News International.

"So we started this campaign. We aim to send 1,000 pads to the government by 3rd March," Mohan added.

A similar campaign took place last year in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of Kerala state. More than 300 female students sent sanitary pads to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, demanding the taxation be removed on the items.

The move was part of a nationwide campaign named "Bleed Without Fear, Bleed without Tax." The same message was written on the pads sent to Jaitley.

More than 300,000 people have signed a petition by Indian lawmaker Sushmita Dev, calling on Jaitely to make sanitary pads tax-free.

A 2011 report by research company AC Nielsen estimated that only 12 percent of India's 355 million women use sanitary pads, and 70 percent cannot afford to buy them.

They use of other items, such as cloth, newspapers and even ash and sand as alternatives. This is linked to incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection.

The organization further said in 2016 that, due to stigma and misinformation about the menstrual cycle, most girls in rural areas are unaware of the health implications that come from poor hygiene during their period.

Social stigma also results in school dropouts. Saathi Pads, a local start-up that aims to bring affordable sanitary pads made of banana leaves to women and girls in rural India, estimated that rural girls miss up to 50 days of school every year. Some girls drop out of school entirely when they reach puberty.

The India High Commission in London has not replied to a request for a comment.