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Meet the real-life ‘Padman’ of rural Rajasthan

Rajasthan: Akshay Kumar was the reel-life ‘PadMan’ in the 2018 film, which gave the message of menstrual hygiene. And Mahendra Rathore of Harsaur town of Nagaur district of Rajasthan is the ‘Padman’ of real life. He works on women’s hygiene issues and distributes free sanitary napkins in the district. Rathore (23) started his mission as a tribute to his mother who was a social worker. He had died in a road accident three years ago.

Mahendra is a final year student at Karaganda Medical University, Kazakhstan. The COVID-induced lockdown has forced him to study online and he has been living in his hometown of Nagaur for the past 18 months. Since his return, Mahendra has been working on menstrual problems and is known as the ‘Padman of Nagaur’.

A resident of Harsaur town, about 120 km from Nagaur district headquarters, he has been distributing sanitary napkins, for which he travels daily by bicycle. Apart from spreading awareness, Rathore also tries to persuade women on the need of hygiene during their menstruation. He wants to bring a change in our attitude towards women, for which his mother worked for years. “My mother took care of women’s health. My father used to run a medical store. My mother not only advised women the right medicine but also counseled them in our area. When she died, I felt that I should do something for my women. I was aware of their problems.”

The pandemic tested him: Rathore offered medicines and food to the needy and approached a friend who runs Ovart, an NGO in Delhi. The NGO was working on the ‘One Village at a Time’ project. Mahendra had also started an NGO ‘Mother’s Hand’ through which he created awareness on menstrual hygiene. Through local donations, he had already distributed free sanitary napkins to nearby Luniawas villages.

To raise funds, Rathore traveled to Ajmer and Jaipur and spoke to potential sponsors. He didn’t ask for cash, but asked for free napkins from his sponsors. He even inspired his friends to help. The big problem was how to communicate with rural women and motivate them to not only discuss but also use free sanitary napkins.

He remembers that when he first went to Luniawas village to distribute handkerchiefs, the women looked at him suspiciously and felt uncomfortable discussing the subject with a man. “They thought I was talking about ‘peds’ (or trees),” he says. “Around 300 women were ready to listen. But when they realized what I was talking about, half of them left,” Rathore says.

Mahendra then selected girl students and local women to reach out to rural women. They started packing sanitary napkins in black covers. So far, Rathore has been able to distribute over 15,000 free sanitary napkins in 18 months.

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