Arunachalam Muruganantham is an Indian Padma Shri award winner, social innovation businessman, and the inventor of low-cost sanitary pad making machine. He is known all over the world for the unique mechanisms employed by him at the grassroots level which resulted in increased awareness about different issues of women, menstrual cycles, and the unhygienic traditional manner in which menstruation is dealt with across rural villages and towns in India.
The machines invented by Muruganantham are currently being used in 23 different states in the country. He also has come with ideas for expansion of the manufacture of the machine to 106 poor countries.
The Akshay Kumar starrer Bollywood movie ‘Pad Man’ is based on the life of Muruganantham. ‘Menstrual Man’ the award winning documentary is also about this social entrepreneur.
Muruganantham was born in 1962 in the city of Coimbatore located in Tamil Nadu state. His father S. Arunachalam was a handloom weaver while his mother A. Vanita was a homemaker. After the demise of the father in a motor accident, Muruganantham’s mother began working as a laborer in farms.
Due to the poor status of his family, Muruganantham dropped out of school when he was 14 years old. He subsequently took up varied odd jobs to support his family. He supplied food to factory workers, operated machinery, was a farm laborer, welder, and sold yams, etc.
In 1998, Muruganantham had an arranged marriage with Shanti.
Muruganantham and the invention of his machine
Muruganantham did not know anything about menstruation before marriage. He came to know about the monthly cycles after he found his wife using dirty torn cloth pieces or old newspapers as sanitary pads. She did so because the family could not afford to buy sanitary pads as they were very expensive. The state of his wife had a great effect on him and was instrumental in him launching his quest into creating low cost sanitary pads. It may be noted that the raw materials used in commercially made sanitary pads cost only 10 paise while the final price of the finished product was forty times more.
Muruganantham began his journey by making pads with cotton, but they were rejected by Shanti and his sisters. He continued to make different kinds of sanitary pads and kept testing it on his wife and sisters. When they stopped being the test subjects, he looked for volunteers and found some in medical colleges. But they were also very shy and were not very responsive to his different innovations.
The lack of test subjects prompted Muruganantham to test his varied innovations on himself. He stitched a bladder and filled it up with animal blood. The bladder had an outlet for the blood. He wore the bladder and then tested the pads made by him for usefulness. His relatives and townsfolk soon discovered about this activity and they ridiculed him; he got ostracized by the community as well as his family.
After some years passed, Muruganantham discovered that company made pads used cellulose fibers derived from pine bark as one of the raw materials. He found that these fibers helped the pads absorb better and retain its shape. But the machines which derived the fibers and manufactured the pads were really expensive. Muruganantham then began testing different kinds of machines and invented a working one that cost an estimated INR 65,000. Anyone can get some basic training and subsequently be able to operate it.
The machine invented by Muruganantham has a kitchen grinder like appearance. Production of sanitary pads is carried out in four easy steps. Cellulose of hard wood pulp is processed by the machine into feathery materials; then it gets packed together into rectangular structures/cakes by another machine; the cakes get wrapped by unweaved fabric; and finally the finished pad is taken to a facility for disinfection with UV treatment.
In 2006, the machine was shown by Muruganantham to IIT Madras. Later, the pad making machine received the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award. The recognition helped Muruganantham to raise money from the market for the launch of his company, Jayaashree Industries. This company sold his low cost machine all over India.
The machine has helped changed the lives and menstrual hygiene of millions of woman across the country. It has also coincided with the creation of many jobs for women, thereby increasing their self-sufficiency.