It was during one of the monthly meetings of Kobi Kolom, a poetry magazine that Sobhan Mukherjee brings out as its editor, that he noticed one of his female friends leaving the meeting midway as she was having her periods. The incident left a deep impact on the 21-year-old student, who is completing his M.Sc. in geography.
He was so disturbed by the emergency-like situation when his friend had to rush to a pharmacy to buy a packet of sanitary napkins that he conceptualized a project called Bandhan to help women such situations. The idea was to supply sanitary napkins to the public toilets in Kolkata.
He initially began with stocking up napkins at the Tridhara public toilets, which again had been conceptualized by him. Tridhara is a group of public washrooms for the third gender.
Speaking to edInbox, he says, “Periods constitute a natural thing. But we all cringe when this topic is brought out for discussions. I fail to understand the secrecy that surrounds it. Hence, I came up with project Bandhan with the sole idea of busting the taboo that surrounds it. Being a student, with little money, I began with purchasing sanitary napkins and stocking them in public toilets. I began with Tridhara, toilets for transgender as I had played a vital role in convincing the local councillors to have separate toilets for this community within the premises of public toilets.”
Initially, Sobhan used to purchase sanitary napkins using his pocket money, which he used to distribute for free at the public toilets of Bansdroni and South Kolkata. However, he realized that people were misusing it. So, now he charges a nominal fee of Rs. 2, which he maintains will be used for demystifying menstrual cycle in rural belt.
Sobhan set off on this mission of equipping public toilets with Bandhan boxes stocked with sanitary napkins in October 2017 and by the end of February 2018, he has successfully installed Bandhan boxes in not one but 30 public toilets across the city.
Speaking about the work that he is doing, Anita Kar Majumdar, the councillor of ward number 112 in Kolkata had a word of praise for the young lad. She said, “He is doing a very nice philanthropic work and he will always have my support.”
However, the best support system for Sobhan is his mother, who not only nurtured him to be a sensitive man but also helps him pack the sanitary napkins for the 30 odd boxes installed in the public toilets.
He said, “See, once I began campaigning about this venture of mine on Facebook, I have had many people rushing to my support. Many have volunteered to bear the cost of supplying napkins to the Bandhan boxes for a few months. Some have helped make videos to reach out to many more people. But I guess the biggest support system for me has been my mother. She actually helps me pack the napkins that I buy at a discounted rate from the manufacturers.” He smiled and then added, “At times my father also volunteers for this task.”
On an average, the young man has to spend a minimum of Rs. 3,500 to stock the toilets with the napkins. Several councillors, all women, have assured of lending a helping hands to Sobhan.
Talking about his social media campaign, where he has been canvassing International Women’s Day as the Sanitary Napkin Day, he said, “I don’t have the resources to organize a huge event to mark this day. Hence, I came up with this innovative idea celebrating Women’s Day as Sanitary Napkin Day. I have made brochures and pamphlets, which I am sharing with people via email, requesting them to spread this mass awareness on periods. I am really overwhelmed with the kind of responses that I am getting for this campaign of mine.”
Speaking about how people are reaching out to him, he said, “I was immensely touched by this 13-year-old, who wouldn’t take no for her initiative to help Bandhan financially. No matter how much I told her that she was too small to help me financially, she refused to pay heed.”
Speaking about his future plans, Sobhan revealed, “I want Project Bandhan to be implemented across India. I have been networking with many prospective partners, who want to have it implemented in their cities. The first interest that was expressed for initiating a similar campaign was from a lady in Patna. She maintains that women out there have to face a lot of problems when they get periods while travelling to schools or colleges or even for work.”
Reporting by Shabina Akhtar Special Correspondent, Kolkata