GST: Women outrage over tax on sanitary pads, but is Arun Jaitley listening?
It is not a luxury but necessity.
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"Gold is taxed at 3 per cent and sanitary napkins at 12 per cent. Please keep your bangles, sindoor and other things with you. There is no generosity in this. Health is more important," says Ranjana Kumari, a women's activist who was assured by finance minister Arun Jaitley that sanitary napkins would me made tax-free.
Kumari met him along with a delegation and a signed petition of over 3,00,000 women demanding that sanitary napkins be made tax-free.
On June 11, at the Goods and Service Tax (GST) Council meet, women across the country waited for the finance minister to say that sanitary napkins would be made tax-free, but when asked the question after the meeting, his reply was "we maintain the same stand as before".
The tax on sanitary napkins has been brought down from 14.5 per cent to 12 per cent while that on insulin has been brought down from 12 per cent to 5 per cent. "If insulin can be at 5 per cent then why not sanitary napkins? Tax other things like cigarettes and alcohol which are harmful for health," said Kumari.
A woman's menstrual cycle is not a choice. A woman bleeds once a month for around 3-5 days for approximately 39 years of her life. Is it fair to tax here what is a natural bodily activity?
"It is not a luxury. Tax imposition is not justified. Many women still aren't aware of menstrual hygiene. I belong to the ABVP but if you are imposing taxes on necessities then you won't get any support. You talk about Beti Bachao Beti Padao, please implement what you talk about," said Prerna Bhardway, a student at Delhi University.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley.
According to a study conducted by UNESCO, over 20 per cent students drop out of school in India after attaining puberty. "Every month, girls drop out of schools in rural areas. The 12 per cent tax shows the hollowness of both the UPA and NDA governments. Menstruation is not a choice. When people talk about culture and tradition, menstruation is very much part of it. If the government is committed to the all-round development of women and girls, then they have to take care of their health also,” said Annie Raja, a women's activist.
While women staged protests and sat on hunger strikes, delegations met the finance minister while many others wrote to him, pointing out that sindoor, bangles and bindis (all of which are tax-free) are goods that people wear out of choice, but sanitary napkins are a necessity.
However, economist Saqib Hasan says taxing sanitary napkins is not about luxury. "Sindoor and bangles are manufactured by cottage industries. These industries do not take inputs from anyone but sanitary napkins are manufactured by corporates."
He also says the need of the hour is more to do with awareness and distribution. The government should introduce schemes where sanitary napkins are given out at subsidised rates.
GST will be implemented starting July 1 and as of now, tax on sanitary napkins at 12 per cent has disappointed many. Sanitary napkins should be put in a slab with other products in the health sector. It is not a luxury. Period.