RAJASTHAN: Akshay Kumar was the reel-life ‘Padman’ in the 2018 flick that sent out the message of menstrual cleanliness. And Mahendra Rathore of Harsaur town is the real-life ‘Padman’ in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district. He works on women’s hygiene issues and distributes free sanitary napkins in the district. Rathore (23) began his mission as a tribute to his mother who was a social worker. She died in a road accident three years ago.
Mahendra is a final year student at the Karaganda Medical University in Kazakhstan. The Covid-induced lockdown has forced him to study online and he is living in his hometown in Nagaur for the past 18 months. Since his return, Mahendra has been working on menstrual problems and is known as the ‘Padman of Nagaur’.
A resident of Harsaur town about 120 km from the Nagaur district headquarters, he has been distributing sanitary napkins for which he travels on his bicycle every day. Apart from spreading awareness, Rathore also tries to persuade women on the need for cleanliness during their menstrual cycle. He wants to bring about a change in our attitude towards women, for which his mother worked for years. “My mother took care of women’s health. My father ran a medical store. My mother not only advised women correct medicines but also counseled them in our area. When she died, I felt I should do something for our women. I was familiar with their problems.”
The pandemic has tested him: Rathore has offered medicines and food to the needy and got in touch with a friend who ran an NGO ‘Owaart’ in Delhi. The NGO was working on a project ‘one village at a time’. Mahendra had also started an NGO, ‘Mother’s Hand’ through which he created awareness on menstrual hygiene. Through local donations, he had already distributed free sanitary napkins in nearby Luniyawas villages.
To generate funds, Rathore travelled to Ajmer and Jaipur and spoke to potential sponsors. He did not ask for cash, but free napkins from his sponsors. He also motivated his friends to help him. The big problem was how to communicate with rural women and motivate them to not only discuss but also utilise the free sanitary napkins.
He remembers that when he went to Luniyawas village to distribute napkins for the first time, women looked at him suspiciously and were uncomfortable talking on the subject with a male. “They thought I was talking about ‘peid’ (or trees),” he says. “Around 300 women were ready to listen. But when they realised what I was talking about, half of them left,” says Rathore.
Mahendra then chose girl students and local women to reach out to the rural women. He started packing sanitary napkins in black covers. So far, Rathore has been able to distribute over 15,000 free sanitary napkins in 18 months.