Jamshedpur, May 22 (IANS) Thirty two-year-old Tarun Kumar of Jamshedpur carries a large carton or a bag full of sanitary napkins tied to the pillion of his bike. He goes among women and school girls in villages, making them aware about menstrual hygiene, and distributes sanitary pads to them. This is no rarity here. However, the most notably, he makes these women and girls pledge to plant a sapling in exchange of a pad. This has been an ongoing practice for the last five to six years. Tarun, popularly known as “Pad Man” in Kolhan area of Jharkhand, is running this campaign on a crowdfunding model without any support form the government or any donor agency.
Tarun began working for UNICEF in 2009 after graduating. Till 2017, he worked with UNICEF on different projects and in the process, got the opportunity to interact with people in remote villages across Jharkhand. Particularly while working on issues of child rights, he attended many schools in rural areas.
Speaking to IANS, Tarun recounts that once when he was interacting with girls at a school in a rural area of Jamshedpur, a girl left the room feeling uneasy. He learnt later that she was unwell due to menstruation. There was no arrangement in that school for her. This incident made Tarun realise how this issue made women and girls uncomfortable there. They remain silent about it and if there is a problem, they don’t share it with anyone. Tarun then decided to break the taboo around menstruation, especially among rural females. To make them aware about this natural phenomenon, he launched a campaign “Chuppi Todo” (Break the Silence). He quit his job and since then has been pursuing this cause. Tarun does translations and writing in addition to working for NGOs in different capacities to support himself financially.
In 2017, Tarun set up “Nishchay Foundation”. The initial phase saw several challenges but many people voluntarily joined this campaign. In all, the 11 blocks of East Singhbhum district, he and his friends travelled across villages by their own means. He interacted with women and schoolgirls and distributed sanitary pads to them for free. He has built pad banks in about 100 schools of Jamshedpur, Potka, Ghatshila, Dhalbhumgarh, Musabani, Dumaria, Gudabandha, Baharagora, Chakulia, Bodam, and Patmada blocks. At least 100 sanitary pads are kept in each pad bank. It is available free of cost to girls and women in times of need.
In 2018, Tarun’s organisation collected 5,163 sanitary pads through crowdfunding and distributed them. Tarun’s name is enlisted in Limca Book of Records for this campaign. During Covid lockdowns, it was difficult to get sanitary pads in rural areas when shops were closed. Tarun and his associates got movement passes to address the situation. Then by running a crowdfunding campaign, they bought about 9,000 pads and distributed them. This campaign, which remained operational during the pandemic, was also noticed internationally. This initiative was selected among 10 leading campaigns in South Asia in the Health and Wellness category during the Covid-19 InGO Awards held in New Delhi last year. Tarun informs that 430 entries had come from different countries of South Asia for these awards. “When our campaign was recognised, our motivation recieved a boost and we were encouraged further”, he said.
According to Tarun, in the last five years, he has interacted with about 75,000-80,000 adolescent girls and women under “Chuppi Todo” campaign. They have been educated about hygiene and health. He has pledged to break the silence and taboos around menstruation. Teenagers fondly call him “Padman Bhaiya”. During this entire campaign, the teachers in these schools have been crucial to making it a success.
As a result of the resolution of one plant for a pad under this campaign, Tarun is happy to share that in four years in East Singhbhum district, more than 20 thousand saplings have been planted.