Arunachalam Muruganantham is an Indian social entrepreneur and the inventor of a machine that makes low-cost sanitary pads. The Padma Shri award winner is well-known for grassroots innovative mechanisms that helped create and increase awareness about menstruation and the associated unhygienic traditional practices in rural India. The machines are now being used in 23 Indian states and there are plans to expand its manufacture to 106 countries.
Early Life and Education
Arunachalam Muruganantham was born into a family of handloom weavers in 1962 in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India, to A. Vanita and S. Arunachalam. His mother started working as a farm laborer after his father passed away in a motor accident. Muruganantham grew up in poverty and gave up studies when he was 14 years old to support the family. He then started doing different kinds of jobs like operating machinery, supplying food to workers in factories, farm labor, selling yams, welder, etc.
Arunachalam married Shanti in 1998.
Invention of sanitary pad making mini-machine
After marriage, Arunachalam found his wife using old newspapers and dirty rags as sanitary pads during menstruation due to the high cost of commercial sanitary napkins. He found that raw materials of commercial pads cost only 10 paise, but the final product’s price was 40 times more. This is when he began his experimentation with manufacture of sanitary pads.
The initial pads made of cotton were rejected by his sisters and wife. The remained his test subjects for some time but later refused to wear and test his different innovations. Muruganantham then began looking for volunteers, but they were very shy and did not respond in positive manner. He then began testing the product on himself. He made a bladder, filled it with goat blood, and used it for testing different kinds of pads made by him. After this was discovered by his villagers, he was ridiculed and ostracized by not just the community but also by his family.
A few years later, he found that pine bark derived cellulose fibers were used in commercial pads; it was the wood pulp fibers that helped the pads retain shape and absorb efficiently. Machine used to convert the pulp and make pads were costly. Hence he conceptualized an inexpensive machine, costing just INR 60-70,000, which could be operated by everyone with basic training.
The machine looks like a kitchen grinder and the process of production is done in 4 simple steps. Hard wood pulp cellulose is first broken down by the machine into fluffy substance, then another machine packs it into rectangular cakes, then non-woven fabric is used to wrap the cakes, then the pad undergoes disinfection in a UV treatment facility.
Muruganantham showed his idea to IIT Madras in 2006 and subsequently won the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award. After this he got seed money and launched Jayaashree Industries, which sell the machines across India. The machine has not only changed lives of millions of women across rural India, but has also helped create jobs and income for them.
Arunachalam Muruganantham’s wife – divorce reason and reconciliation
Shanthi was tired of her husband’s constant research and prying into women’s private matters. Since the society also raised eyebrows at Arunachalam’s antics, the already frazzled Shanthi decided to give her husband divorce, when she felt that her husband was having affair with girls from medical college. Of course, after Arunachalam became famous and his work was widely acknowledged, she got back to her husband.
Arunachalam Muruganantham – Pictures
Amit Virmani’s prize-winning documentary ‘Menstrual Man’ is about Arunachalam Muruganantham’s life. He was among the Top 100 in the Time’s 100 Most Influential People of the World. He has also given a TED talk. Balki’s ‘Pad Man’ is an upcoming Hindi movie starring Akshay Kumar. It is based on the life of Muruganantham.