Under our webinar series ‘Shaasan’, we bring to you different bureaucrats who have initiated good governance schemes to discuss their work, innovative solutions to public problems, and the challenges they faced.
Our second guest is Aman Preet is the Joint Commissioner of Income Tax Department, Delhi. She has served in the Election Commission of India as an expenditure observer in MLA elections. She has engaged with various NGOs in providing relief to vulnerable sections of society. She has been honoured by the Delhi Commission of Women on Women’s day.
Following is our interview with her.
Q1. How do you feel about being referred to as ‘The pad woman’?
A very good morning everyone and my heartiest congratulations to Sagar and your team for giving me an opportunity to come over here and start this wonderful series. I think many will be inspired by your series. Sagar, actually I never thought that I will be bestowed upon this title ‘Pad woman’ because when people started calling me pad woman, literally I was being shunned away in some of the villages due to the very nature of the drive which I chose, the very nature of the cause which I chose. In many rural and internal areas where we used to go, people used to send us away stating what is this dirty thing that we are here to promote. Many times people used to say that I have lost my mind due to the fact that I am an educated person. So I think that the title of ‘Pad Woman’ feels good too because it shows that the cause on which we took an initiative is getting recognition and people are joining and standing with us. And my mission, that I always say, is creating many people like me. Those people keep joining me and each and every person and youth that is joining me and doing the groundwork, even the Anganwadi women who are working with us, are the real ones. The title suits them better as they are the ones that are going in the interiors to spread this cause.
Q2. We would like to know the story behind this initiative like why you started this initiative, empowering women with this cause, and how it was all managed.
All of this started in my childhood days. My mother was the superintendent of a women’s jail and her work was in Ludhiana. Sometimes as a child, I used to accompany my mother to her workplace. If we see carefully then prisons themselves are such institutions where you are able to witness all the problems in society. So there I used to see what all problems women had to face whenever there was a crisis. Also for the requirement of sanitary napkins in jail, women have to depend on two things. Whether they can go to the canteen and purchase it from there or they can request their relatives who are visiting them to bring it along with them. There are NGOs too who provide sanitary napkins. But I think during this pandemic, as I have been closely associated with jails, we got to know informally that the NGOs weren’t able to reach the jails due to the very nature that in the first wave of covid, sanitary napkins were not added as an essential commodity. So their supply was halted and when that happened, the supply of raw materials was also stopped. Then it came to mind why not start this initiative. So the women’s jail in Ludhiana, where my mother used to work, we started sending supplies there. When the women there told us that they were facing a lot of problems regarding this, then we thought that if it is a problem here, it must be so in pan India too. So I started with all the prisons in Punjab and covered all of them. Then we started an initiative along with a friend’s husband who is in Revenue service. He suggested starting this in and around Delhi NCR. Alok Singh’s (CP of Noida) wife, Akanksha ma’am, is associated with many NGOs and social causes. She organised a camp in Nithari, a village in Noida, and distributed ration supplies, masks, sanitisers to women who worked on brick kilns. To that, we added the supply of sanitary pads also. There when we had a one to one interaction with the ladies and that was an eye-opener Sagar. There a lady said that the supply did not reach them even before the lockdown. They considered it to be a luxury item saying that women of big households use them. That session itself was an eye-opener. We showed them how to use pads. And I think that is where it started, from Nithari we reached up to 18 states. Now talking about how we take it further. In Punjab, Gagan Kundra Thori and her husband Gyansham Thori, IAS, took up the cause of Menstrual Hygiene Day. They distributed 20,000 packets of the sanitary napkin in a single day in the Sangroor area. Aarti Verma, in postal services, covered the whole of Patiala. All these people kept joining me. My batchmates Nivedita Prasad and Atul Panday covered the whole of, I think, Calcutta. Atul helped me to reach the Northeast Area of Sundarbans islands. My batchmates Madhur Verma’s hometown is Ludhiana too. He is a DCP and he helped our supplies to reach the jails in Arunachal Pradesh. COVID was such an unexpected event and I think that the unparalleled contribution of bureaucrats during this pandemic was seen. Because everyone thought that it is now or never. That if we do not serve our nation now, if we do not work to our full potential then we cannot justify why we entered into civil services. So I think this was the basic. Also, there was a certain willingness and warmness among the people to join this cause due to which we were able to reach 18 states.
Q.3 How can this service be converted into a permanent scheme so that more women can I benefit from it?
We already have this scheme Sagar but the real problem with our country lies in the fact that the beneficiaries do not know that such a scheme exists. So I think we need to create awareness. During the pandemic too the Prime Minister announced pads for 1 rs. When they started the supply through Jan Aushadhi Kendra, many people did not know that they had a Kendra in their area. With the help of District Administration people were made aware that there is a kendra in their region from where they can buy pads. They remembered that we showed them how to use it and now they themselves go and buy these from kendra. So I think that that was pretty good and we were really happy as we went there risking our health to organise camps. Vishakha, a doctor from our department, offered to help and gave them free medical advice. There were many doctors. Doctor Vandana started giving online consultations on menstrual hygiene. As more and more doctors kept joining us, women felt more comfortable talking about their problems with us. Many children did not know what healthy periods were. So when awareness was created about this through doctors, it proved to be useful for them as well as us. So I think if they know about the schemes and infrastructure that we already have, they will be able to benefit from it.
Q.4 In recent times there have been many reports that claim that pads are harmful for the environment. What do you think is an alternative for this?
During this distribution, many of our officers were on the field. We were dependent on others to give us free supply of pads as there was no availability. After three months as the issue of decomposing them became an issue, the girls came to me. In India, biodegradable pads are still a very very expensive product. And there are very few NGOs that are associated with biodegradable products. Recently I got engaged with this one company which makes it by repadding it. It’s a very good product also and we can use it for 6 months. So yes the problem is there because we are talking about sustainable development. We are talking about keeping the environment clean and for that, we need to reduce the use of plastic. Through this initiative, we are encouraging the NGOs to come up with and make women aware along with menstrual health. The health involvement is also to be taken care of.
Q.5 According to you can taxation act as a solution to make pads a more important Issue?
I think creating awareness should be the responsibility of the corporations also. They should include it in their CSR and give back to society. There are many corporations that are engaged in creating awareness. They are doing a lot of work in the field of health and hygiene. Recently I got associated with an Atulya foundation through whose help there is an educational society, Pardada Pardadi Educational Society. When we went there the organization distributed reusable pads and had a pad vending machine. Our society’s mentality has always been that certain areas are of government work and in doing so we run away from our own individual responsibilities. We try to blame the bureaucrats, we try to blame the government. Mu initiative is a personal one and that is why I say that I do not think an IRS officer will come to help the needy. I think as a woman, as a citizen of this country, I think that it is my moral responsibility to give back to society. So that is why as a human being a thought came into my mind that yes I have to go ahead and help the vulnerable section of society. Many corporations, NGO’s joined us and womanite organizations have done wonders in the field of menstrual health and both are being run by young boys and young girls. This is the thing that is creating awareness and Sagar you being a male interviewing me on this very sensitive subject I think we have already started creating a change. So i think more than the taxation and all for the awareness it is the comfortability of talking about this subject is what is more important.
Q.6 It is said that mentality change regarding menstrual change should be promoted in men too. Is there any aspect in your campaign to promote this too?
This is an incident from 2020. I came across this article that there was one hostel in Gujrat area in that district. A child was on her period and entered the kitchen area. So, someone made a complaint to the warden that someone on their periods entered the kitchen which has made it impure. So the warden along with other staff members – I am talking about the women here – made all these girls stand in a line. They did this so that they could check their undergarments saying that either tell who the person was or strip and show us who is on a period. There was no male involved in this. All the ladies were involved all the girls were involved and still when I think of this I get chills thinking about what those girls must have gone through. Their parents sent them to this school with such trust and when these girls were made to strip, I don’t think these girls will ever be able to remove this stigma from their minds. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind for 2 years now. So if we talk about changing the mindset. When we bring about a change in society, it is not a one-time affair. The problem is that we think of menstruation as a gender-specific topic. In my opinion, it is a society specific topic. The whole society needs to come forward and conversation should start. When we go to many places people come thinking that a big officer has come to distribute pads for free. But as soon as I start a conversation on menstruation, they hide their faces behind the veil or start looking in different directions. In worst-case scenario, they get up and go. I explain to them many times that our country is such where women are given such high status. If we talk about Guwahati, there is a Kamakhya Devi temple where they are worshipped. In Orissa, when a girl reaches puberty, she is celebrated. These are the parts of our country so why is it considered taboo? There are some places in the northeast where it is discussed openly but then there are concepts of menstrual hut too. Saying that if a woman touches food while on her period it will ruin it or giving water to plants would lead to decaying. Such illogical and unscientific concepts still prevail in our society. And yet there are some schools, like last week I had an interaction with Lotus Valley International School. The reason why I appreciated the school was that there was a Social Interaction Club where a pad vending machine was put up inside the school. The boys and girls of that club make the pads themselves and they sent me a video where boys and girls were making the pads and they could either buy the pads or take them back home or donate it to some NGO. During the pandemic, this school also donated me some pads. So I think these educational institutes will bring change. For the students in Lotus Valley, it is a simple process. If we start changing the mindset of students from that age itself then I think there will come a time where we will not feel the need to discuss the topic of menstruation. And it will be as simple a topic as any other topic.
Q.7 What can all those people who want to join your campaign do to be associated with it?
There is one thing I have to say to everyone that anyone who wants to be a part of this initiative need not be directly in touch with me because you yourself have the capability to become a padman or padwoman of your area. So I would really appreciate it if you reach out to the people around you – the helpers at home, your mothers and sisters, all those who may hide things. Make them comfortable during the days when they are menstruating. If you feel that there is a particular area where there are many orphanages or observatory homes in and around, contribute over there. You reach out to those vulnerable areas, sections, slum areas and observe the problems being faced in society. Even transgender people do not know that they menstruate too. Reach out to those people and the satisfaction you will receive will be unparalleled. I have my social media accounts and that is the best way people reach out to me there and I show them the way out and connect them to the officials so that they can reach out to people there. More than that I want every individual to think about this topic. We say it is such a basic commodity as every woman has to go through it every month. Why is it considered taboo? Since childhood, I have been seeing many hospitals with condom vending machines. If we are so comfortable with these then why are we not comfortable with pad vending machines? So I wish that we see more pad vending machines in the future.