A taxing period

Center’s decision under GST to place sanitary pads in the non-essential tax bracket has whipped up a big storm.

Published: 12th July 2017 08:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th July 2017 08:33 AM   |  A+A-

Green the Red campaign, supported by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), started ahead of International Women’s Day this year by a group of six Bengaluru women.

Image for representation only.

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Angry tweets, umpteen posts, and videos expressing disapproval and campaigns asking for exemption - the central ministry’s decision to place sanitary pads in the non-essential tax bracket has definitely whipped up a storm, and this time for all the right reasons. “While firms are giving their female employees an option to take leave on the first day of their period, the government is levying 12% GST on sanitary napkins. What kind of paradox is that,” exclaims Rajalakshmi, a teacher.     

Illus :Suvajith

Sex is a choice, period is not, reads one of the slogans of ‘Don’t tax my period’ campaign pointing to the fact that condoms are now tax-free. “How can they think sanitary pads are not an essential commodity?,” asks Anjali Anilkumar, a law student.

“This is something that should be provided free. A woman bleeds around 6,000 days in her lifespan and you cannot tax her for a purely biological phenomenon. I think when we take the hygiene part, pads are as important as condoms. Or does it mean the government is not concerned about the health of women who constitute a major per cent of the population?” she adds. The women folk seem equally aghast at the logic of making kumkum and bangles tax-free. 

“How can things like bangles and bindi, that are part of your personal choice, become ‘essential’? You can go out and work without bangles, but not pads,” says Bhagya, a homemaker.  

The variation in price may not be a great concern for the average urban woman, but when you go to the rural parts the situation changes. “There are women who got introduced to sanitary pads only in recent times. This may force them to backtrack to their primitive and unhygienic options. This means we are ruining whatever progress we have achieved in menstrual hygiene, an area that was long ignored,” says Deepa, a government employee.  According to studies, there are women who use cloth, ash, hay, wood scraps and even cow dung as an alternative. 

“I simply can’t digest this. Sanitary pads are no luxury, but a hygienic necessity that saves women from a volley of infections. The women who don’t have access to menstrual pads are more prone to vaginal infections, cervicitis and even cancer. I wouldn’t recommend used cloth as an alternative as it can induce so many infections,” says Dr Lalitha Appukuttan.      

The campaign against the tax can also be seen as a point of breaking free from the taboos associated with the topic. We still discuss menstruation in hush-hush tones and there is still an air of shame and embarrassment associated with it. “I think we can see it as a starting point from where we can open a healthy conversation on the subject,” says Hena, an entrepreneur.  

Why the tax?
In pre-GST, they attracted concessional excise duty of 6% and 5% VAT and, the pre-GST estimated total tax incidence on sanitary napkins was 13.68%. Therefore, 12% GST rate had been provided for sanitary napkin. The tax levied on sanitary napkins can vary from 12 to 14.5 percent, from state to state.


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