Arunachalam Muruganantham

By Hillary Essien | Jun 1, 2022

60-year-old social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham is popularly known as Padman due to his efforts to create a low-cost sanitary pad. 

Mr Muruganantham, from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India, started his journey to create a low-cost sanitary pad in 1998. However, it was when he married his wife Shanthi Natrajan that he realised that she was using and reusing rags during her menstrual cycle. She knew about sanitary pads but didn’t buy them because they were expensive.

Mr Muruganantham also discovered that the lack of proper sanitary napkins restricted a woman's mobility and stifled her confidence. So Muruganantham, who is the son of a textile weaver, with the help of his wife, decided to develop a better, less expensive and hygienic sanitary pad.

On his first try, he wrapped tufts of cotton in gauze. But that did not work, because according to his wife, not only was it not easy to use, his handmade creation was flimsy and would disintegrate in minutes, but Mr Muruganantham, a 10th-grade dropout, did not give up on his goal to change the lives of rural women for the better.

After nine years of research and trial and error which cost him all he had and insults over his concern on female hygiene and menstruation (which was regarded as a taboo in India and so hindered his research since most women did not corporate to give him information), his persistence paid off in 2006 with the invention of the machine that could manufacture low-cost, high-quality sanitary napkins. 

Muruganantham finally created a portable, semi-automated machine, powered by electricity, that could fit in a small space of about 11 by 11 feet and make two napkins a minute.

Since then, he has supplied over 4,000 of his mini-machines, which can manufacture sanitary pads for less than a third of the cost of commercial pads, to women in India. He has also shipped over 200 machines to 27 developing nations across the world.

His creation received perhaps the greatest endorsement from Dr Deepali Bhardwaj, the dermatologist practising in Delhi’s Defence Colony when she confirmed that the sanitary pads made using Muruganantham’s equipment are of the highest quality.

Nevertheless, he describes himself as a social entrepreneur. Rather than make the low-cost pads and supply the entire country, he is focused on the grassroots, selling the pad-making machines to women’s self-help groups and NGOs.

He was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2014. In 2016, he won an Indian national award, the Padma Shri, given to civilians for their contributions to society. His story gripped Bollywood actor and author Twinkle Khanna, who wrote about him in her second book — The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad — a collection of short stories. And then went on to produce the biopic Pad Man featuring matinee idol Akshay Kumar as Arunachalam Muruganantham.

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