Arunachalam Muruganantham, AKA “pad man” is a social entrepreneur from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India and founder of
In 1998, a young and newly married Muruganantham was saddened when he noticed his wife collecting filthy rags and old newspapers to use in preparation for her menstrual cycle as the multinational brands were too expensive.
He started to create sanitary pads made from cotton, but these were rejected by his wife and sisters who were becoming tired of Muruganantham’s obsession. He then involved some co-operative local women, but they were also too shy and ashamed to discuss their periods with him due to the taboo nature of menstruation in indian culture.
Not one to give up, Muruganantham started testing his products on himself using a bladder containing animal blood. This led to him being a subject of ridicule in his town, ostracised by his family and community and some even branded him a ‘pervert.’
He started giving out his pads for free to girls in a local medical college hoping they would provide feedback.
After a few years of trial and error, he discovered that commercial pads used cellulose fibres derived from pine bark wood pulp. The fibres helped the pads absorb while retaining shape. He found that imported machines that made the pads cost ₹35 million (US$510,000) so he devised a low-cost machine that could be operated with minimal training. He sourced the processed pine wood pulp from a supplier in Mumbai, and the machines would grind, de-fibrate, press and sterilize the pads under ultraviolet light before packaging them for sale. Muruganantham’s machine costs less than a 5th of the price of imported commercial ones at ₹65,000 (US$940).
In 2006, he visited the Indian Insitute of Technology, Madras to show his idea and receive feedback. They registered his invention for the National Innovation Foundation‘s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award, and it won. He obtained seed funding and founded Jayaashree Industries, which now markets his machines to rural women across India. The machine has been praised for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, and his commitment to social aid has earned him several awards. Despite offers from several corporate entities to commercialize his venture, he has refused and continues to provide these machines to self-help groups run by women.
Muruganantham’s invention is widely praised as a key step in changing the lives of women in India. The machine creates jobs and income for many women, and affordable pads enable many more to continue to earn their livelihood during menstruation. Muruganantham’s work has also inspired many other entrepreneurs to enter this area, including some who are using biodegradable materials such as waste banana fibre or bamboo for the purpose.
He has given lectures and Ted Talks including at the University of Harvard. His story was the subject of a prize-winning documentary by Amit Virmani, Menstrual Man, which was later made into a movie starring Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar. Then in 2018, he was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary ‘Period. End of Sentence.’