The uproar of ‘whispers’

The uproar of 'whispers'

New Delhi, Jan 16: The Supreme Court has stated that it would hear all the petitions pertaining to the tax exemption of sanitary pads on January 22, bringing a temporary stop to the extensive campaigns against the government move, both online and offline.

There used to be a time when women refrained from talking about menstruation. It was a topic only to be discussed in Whispers; Ironically a leading sanitary napkin brand’ in India is named ‘Whispers’, justifying the shame in publicly speaking about a simple, physiological process.

The cry to free menstrual products from the domain of tax has always been in the society, the difference now is that it is loud and audible. Menstruation has always been a topic of taboo in society, but the women in the country has been very vocal about it and the issue of exempting the sanitary pads from the tax in recent years.

According to a survey by Zee Business, the primary reason for the use of cloth or rags by women is the cost of the sanitary napkin. 80% of the women who participated in the survey settled for traditional methods because of the cost, while 19 % of the women did not use it because of the lack of awareness. The survey also brought out the shocking fact that 88% of the women in India is still not using sanitary pads.

The tax rate before and after GST

Before the switch to GST, the sanitary pads attracted a concessional excise duty of 6% in addition to the  5% VAT and, the pre-GST estimated total tax incidence on sanitary napkins was 13.68%.

After the revamp of the tax structure, the tax rate on sanitary pads was marginally reduced to 12%, even after repeated plea and online petitions by the public. The government revised the tax structure by shifting 178 items from the highest 28% category to lower categories, retaining only 50 entities in the top slash. The sanitary napkins continue to remain in the 12% category which also includes cell phones, frozen meat products, Ayurvedic medicines, and sewing machines.

The items that come under the 0% tax category of GST includes sindoor, bangles, and bindi. What can we derive from these facts? The Governments assumes that the women in the country will be happy and fine as long as they are decorated and adorned. The most crucial entity, that contributes to the hygiene and health of a menstruating women, which is absolutely indispensable, is a luxury and bangles and sindoor are a necessity for Indian women.

It is sardonic that the tax for detergent, deodorants, and after shaving creams were significantly reduced, while menstruating women are left to pay heavy taxes for a life necessity, so much for the cleanliness!

Major campaigns

Condoms had also been made tax-free after the introduction of GST. Outraged by this information, doctors along with women medical professionals staged a protest against the government move in July, 2017, raising the hard-hitting slogan ‘Sex is a choice, period is not’. The gynaecologists emphasised the fact that heavy taxes levied on the sanitary pads will drive the women away from this healthy practice and to settle for rags and other such unhygienic methods.

The campaigns on Social Media witnessed support and demands to free pads from the taxes pouring in. The posts bearing the slogan ‘Do not tax my period’ went gleaming across all internet platforms in India.

The internet movement was spearheaded by an NGO called She Says, the members of the NGO solicited the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to abolish the tax on women’s sanitary products. Soon, the topic was rendered trending and netizens and celebrities joined the NGO in shooting questions and requests to Arun Jaitley and other people of power.

The campaign by She Says, called ‘Lahu Ka Lagaan’ or ‘the price of blood’ rippled an instant uproar on the social media. Celebrities, comedians and women politicians took it to Twitter to lash out against the authorities.

Government is spending crores on promoting girl child education; ironically one of the main reasons for the rural girls to drop out of school is menstruation and the lack of menstrual supplies.

In the wake of increasing outcry against the tax, the Supreme Court has stated that it would hear all petitions on GST on sanitary pads. The apex will hear a plea filed by the Centre seeking to transfer all petitions challenging the imposition of GST on sanitary napkins to the apex court from other courts. A bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra along with Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud will hear the petition on January 22.

Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar took it Twitter to laud the decision by the court.

The actor’s next movie Padman will be highlighting the issue menstrual hygiene.