GST exempts sindoor, taxes sanitary napkins; crusader MP disappointed but won’t give up

Menstruation
Menstrual hygiene products are much more essential to womanhood than symbolism of marriage like sindoor.
Sindoor photo by Masum-al-hasan via Wiki Commons
When Congress MP Sushmita Dev met Arun Jaitley a few days ago, she told TNM that the Finance Minister was optimistic about the proposal to make sanitary pads tax-free. His primary concern, Sushmita said was the loss the public exchequer would incur. But when the revised GST rates came out on Friday, sanitary pads continued to be under the 12% bracket.

The decision obviously upset Sushmita, who also started a petition on change.org urging for the tax on commercial sanitary pads to be reduced and tax on environment-friendly ones to be abolished altogether. “I don’t know what happened [at the GST meeting], and why they didn’t do it. I don’t think they’ve made a good decision rejecting the voice of so many,” she tells TNM.

With over three lakh signatures, the petition created substantial conversation around why sanitary pads and menstrual hygiene were not a luxury, but a necessity for women. Meanwhile it has been pointed out multiple times in the past days how GST exempts sindoor (vermilion). Many have criticized the move, saying that the government prioritises a symbol of marriage for women over menstrual products.
Sushmita says that she doesn’t begrudge anything else being tax-free. “However, menstrual hygiene products are much more essential to womanhood than symbolism of marriage,” she asserts.
The road ahead
While disappointed with the GST verdict on sanitary napkins, Sushmita says that she is not going to give up on making menstrual hygiene products more affordable and accessible for women.
First off, she wants to meet Union Health Minister JP Nadda with the results of a study she had done in Silchar, her constituency in Assam. She spoke to 10-15 women’s self-help groups, or over 200 women to find out if they were using government subsidised sanitary pads.

“We spoke to many women and found that they do not want to use the subsidised sanitary napkins being disbursed under National Rural Health Mission because they do not like the quality. So, if the government wants to say that they don’t need to exempt or reduce tax on commercially produced sanitary pads because they already produce subsidised one, the problem is women don’t really use them,” she explains.

“Menstrual hygiene is a bigger issue than just making them tax-free. I will take up these exercises in my constituency to show that we can do a better than that NRHM and I will have the results to prove it,” Sushmita says.
She adds that she also plans to consult lawyers and see if there’s a legal recourse she can take to make menstrual hygiene more affordable and accessible for women.
“I don’t want to give up on the issue. This is something that impacts a woman’s right to life,” Sushmita maintains.

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