Tax on sanitary pads, not on sindoor-bangles: Modi government doesn't get women

Misplaced priorities? Definitely.

 |  4-minute read |   24-05-2017
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Welcome to a progressive India, where “essential” items like sindoor (vermilion), bindis and bangles will not be taxed at all, but sanitary pads will be taxed at 12 per cent under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime.  

Sure, the taxation on menstrual hygiene products has gone down under the GST. While the tax on sanitary pads used to be 14.5 per cent earlier, a 2.5 per cent reduction to 12 is a good thing in itself. But it does not, at all, change the fact that a decision to continue taxing menstrual hygiene products — when it could have been avoided by the finance ministry while they were working on the slab — is a sad thing.

In fact, Congress MP Sushmita Dev from Silchar in Assam started a petition asking for removal of tax on sanitary napkins.

Menstrual health is a serious issue in India. According to Dev’s petition, only about 12 per cent of the 355 million women in India use sanitary napkins. Shockingly, over 88 per cent of women resort to unsanitary and unhealthy alternatives like old rags, ashes and husk sand. According to a report in The Times of India, incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) are 70 per cent more common among women who do not use sanitary products during menstruation.

Of course, a price reduction (as a result of the tax cut) is not all that is needed to improve India’s menstrual health. In rural areas, the price cut will not mean much, thanks to a fundamental lack of awareness about menstrual health. And while there are programmes such as the Scheme for Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene started by the government in 2010, for providing sanitary napkins to adolescent girls at a nominal cost, an audit done during 2014-15 by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for schemes meant for Scheduled Tribes found poor implementation, particularly in the states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal.

pads_052417065427.jpgPhoto: The Better India

One of the principle challenges, the dialogue about menstrual and sexual health faces in rural areas, stems out of taboo. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on one hand, projects himself as a leader who cares for the well-being of women in the country, apart from being a leader who wants to transform and develop the nation. His Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Swachh Bharat schemes both should intersect in the Venn diagram of female sexual health. But alas, the government’s priorities seem to reflect something else altogether.

It is true, the comparison of bindis, bangles and sindoor to sanitary pads in a tax reform doesn't make sense. After all, sindoor, bindis and bangles are mostly manufactured by micro enterprises. The comparison of a cottage industry to large companies like Procter & Gamble (one of the larger manufacturers of sanitary pads in India) is not fair. As an article in The Ladies Finger rightly points out, "if this question isn’t about gender, then why do bindis and sindoor get the treatment that sanitary napkins don’t? Is the idea of an unmarried woman really that scary?" 

Making the aforementioned products tax-free is a great move. But levying tax on sanitary pads is certainly not. The comparison arises here because while the products mentioned above are strictly related to ritualistic accessorising (oh, by the way, pooja items have been made tax-free as well), menstrual pads are a health concern.

Misplaced priorities? Definitely.

Also read: Even goddess in temple bleeds like all women. It's a blessing, not filth

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