Imagine a world without social activists. Its better not to. For these people with their selfless nature bring quiet changes in the world we live in. And many times, we are not aware of the work they do or the lives they have affected. 24-year-old Sobhan Mukherjee is one such person who chose to make a difference in the world with his service.
Hailing from Kolkata, Sobhan’s act of creating stickers that read Tridhara, (the third gender) and putting it outside public toilets for separate sections for the third gender, in certain districts of West Bengal had already touched hearts 3 years back. Sobhan is now also hailed as the ‘Padman’ of Kolkata after the work he has been doing for menstruation by setting up sanitary pad dispensers in public toilets.
“After a colleague’s absence at a meeting, when I called to check up on her, she told me that she had got her period on the bus and didn’t have a pad so she had to return home. That got me thinking how thousands of women must be deprived of attending work, school, sports because of this”, says Sobhan. “A basic availability of sanitary pads in public toilets could solve this issue for many”, he thought.
So Sobhan bought 20 packets of sanitary pads and kept it on a table in a public toilet. His parents were so supportive of his act that his mom hugged him and his dad even funded him for more. “I have been brought up with the ideology that you must help the people around you”.
“After posting about my initiative on social media strangers came forward with financial support. But people started hoarding the free napkins. That’s when I replaced the table with a dispenser machine made out of ice-cream cup box and when that didn’t work either, I started charging Rs. 2 for each pad.”
Soon Sobhan was conducting menstrual education campaigns in villages for creating menstrual hygiene awareness and break taboos surrounding it. After a lot of hesitation, the villagers got comfortable to share their problems with a man.
“I also make a documentary on menstrual hygiene to create awareness. Also with the help of local authorities, I set up medical camps for women who complained about a lack of lady doctors to treat their lady problems.”
In a year, Sobhan had built sanitary pad dispensers across 70 public toilets in Kolkata under the name Bandhan and was awarded Rs. 25,000 cash by the CM, Mamata Banerjee.
“With that money, I bought vending machines. I have now developed an app where you can track the nearest washroom with a sanitary pad dispenser. I want these sanitary pad dispensers and apps to be available in all the metros of India so that more women across the country can have easy access to sanitary napkins when they need”.
Sobhan has come up with a concept of Self Help Group in villages where with just a loan of Rs. 10000, a group of women can set up a manufacturing unit of sanitary napkins which can be sold at a very affordable rate. “They can breakeven at 5 months and return the loan at 0% interest and with the profit, they can use it to rotate the recurring expense. This model helps to not only to generate employment to this SHG but also empowers the women of that area by giving them access to low-cost sanitary napkins and helps break the taboo surrounding menstruation”.
This concept has already been successfully implemented by him in 2 units of Sunderbans. Lack of funds is what is preventing him to expand this concept to other villages.
“If corporate and organizations can come forward and support us in this initiative, very soon access to sanitary napkins to most women in rural areas will be possible”, says Sobhan.
Sobhan’s work has got him recognition from various sectors but what he requires is financial assistance. With the salary he earns from an NGO, he puts in most of his earnings for his cause, as he has been doing since he was 20 years old.
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