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Wed, 22 Nov 2017

Northeast Today

GST Makes Bleeding a Luxury

GST Makes Bleeding a Luxury
July 05
17:05 2017

NET Bureau, Tanya Rose Rao

During the formulation of the GST, India’s largest tax reform, a declaration was made that items of national importance, which are indispensable to the household, would be exempted from the levy of tax. Of these, sanitary napkins and condoms, among others were up for consideration. Unfortunately, sanitary napkins couldn’t escape the purview of tax. It has been raised to 12 percent, while condoms are now no longer taxable. This is so, even after months of appeal by concerned citizens, with the collection of three lakh signatures on change.org, an online petition that had been initiated by Congress MP, Sushmita Devi. Here, she leads the charge in abolishing taxes on menstrual hygiene products which is then to be presented to the Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley.

Women of age spend roughly about sixty five days in a year bleeding. Fact is, 88 percent of women in India use unsanitary cloth, dry leaves, newspapers, husk sand and plastic during menstruation. These items, as easily available, are highly unhygienic to use as absorbents. The aim towards nullifying tax on menstrual hygiene items would allow women to avail these items more easily. Freeing condoms from tax, as appreciable as it is, is the government’s step towards promotion of safe sex. But as word has been going round, sex is still a choice, but a woman’s menstrual cycle, isn’t. Perhaps what pinches most is that tax on items such as bangles, betel leaves, pooja products, that is, materials that go into organizing religious ceremonies, rituals, sermons etc too have been let go. The reason for this, that most people brand as ‘religious’ or ‘traditional’, is that, such industries don’t meet the annual turn-over of Rs. 20 lakhs, hence, exempted from the rules of taxation.

Perhaps affordability isn’t the only problem at stake here. In 2012, the Union Health Ministry along with Family Welfare launched a Rs. 150 crore scheme to push accessibility of sanitary napkins among adolescent girls in rural India. But this appears to be only a short term solution to a much larger problem. The truth is- a large section of Indian women still thinks that sanitary napkins and tampons are a sign of luxury. When basic necessities are quantum, such do appear luxurious. This stint in awareness also constitutes a major part of the problem.

The rural perspective is a major part of the discourse, of course. But another tangent of discussion that can be brought forward at this juncture is abnormality of menstrual flow. As unaware as we may be, there are several abnormalities that women all over have to bear the burden of. Of these, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one. One of the common side effects of this syndrome is the unpredictability of bleeding. While some may not bleed for months, others might bleed heavy and without break, for perhaps months. Such pads that have been designed to control heavy flow are already very expensive to begin with.

The Constitution of India guarantees equality before the law and prohibits discrimination based on sex. In all fairness then, the questions must be posed; why must women fight for their every right and where have the priorities of the government gone?

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