Arunachalam Muruganantham fought against the set societal norms prevalent in the country and worked relentlessly to invent the world’s first low-cost machine for manufacturing sanitary napkins in India. His story is an ode to dedication, passion and vision that can make even the most impossible of tasks, doable.
Muruganantham was born in 1962 in Coimbatore, India. Post his father’s early death, he had to drop out of school at the age of 14. He took up various jobs such as machine tool operator, yam-selling agent, farm labourer, welder, etc. to support his family.
He got married to Shanthi in 1998 and this was the real game changer for him. The torture of seeing his wife hunt for dirty rags and newspaper during her menstrual cycle, caught his attention. He realised the hardships women face and that is when he decided to do something for their betterment.
He soon fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and asked his wife and sisters to use it. He also approached the local medical college students, but, did not get any fruitful result. He then did the impossible – tried it on himself to test it.
He created a ‘uterus’ for himself from a football bladder and filled it with goat’s blood. He mixed an additive to prevent the blood from clotting and with this on, he would roam around the whole day. His aim was to check the absorption rate of the sanitary napkins made by him.
Often, he would be ridiculed and was even ostracized by the local community for talking about this topic. Undeterred, he carried on and after two years of rigorous work, he discovered the material that sanitary napkins are made of.
After this, he successfully created a low-cost machine for the production of sanitary pads. In 2006, he visited IIT Madras to showcase his idea. They registered his invention for the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award and his idea won. He obtained seed funding and founded Jayaashree Industries, which now markets these machines to rural women across India.
He was awarded by the then President Pratibha Patil. Muruganantham made 250 machines in 18 months.Today, he is successfully running a napkin business, Jayashree Industries, with 2003 units across India, including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. More than 21,000 women employees work in his venture.
For his idea, he was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014. And in 2016, he was awarded the Padma Shri.
Muruganantham has become well-known as a social entrepreneur. He has given lectures at many institutions including IIT Mumbai, IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore and Harvard. He has also given a TED talk. His story was the subject of a prize-winning documentary by Amit Virmani titled ‘Menstrual Man’ & ‘Phullu’ (2017) directed by Abhishek Saxena.
More recently, Director R. Balki has cast Akshay Kumar as Muruganantham in a film based on his life, titled ‘Pad Man,’ which has created the right buzz before its release on the 9th of February 2018.