How Women Jail Inmates Are Regularly Deprived Of Sanitary Products & Menstrual Hygiene

“Ma’am, I saw.”

Seven-year-old Bhuvana spoke from the crowd of children who were gathered together by their class teacher in order to find who tore the attendance register. The class monitor, Manish said that it was Swapna, and two of his friends confirmed his answer. Poor Swapna was already in tears.

But now Bhuvana’s answer puzzled their teacher.

“Ma’am, Manish was playing with the attendance book instead of keeping it on your table. When his friend pushed him from behind, it fell and got torn.” Bhuvana clearly spoke.

The terrified look on Manish and his friends added to the truth.

Bhuvana neared Swapna and wiped her tears. That was the day when Bhuvana realized that she wanted to become the voice of the suppressed and that she had it in her. She was clear about her career and today she stood as a lawyer. Her parents were always proud of her.

Varadharajan!

The name sent shivers even in his absence in the high court. With more than thirty years of experience, he rejected the promotion of being a judge because he wanted to help the people. He chose Bhuvana to be on his legal team. He had been observing her since her college days and all the debates she had been participating in.

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Bhuvana was extremely happy to be working with a leading lawyer, yet in front of him she felt scared of talking. Her Good Morning and Good Afternoon wishes were only heard from her.

She practiced many times before the mirror and in front of her parents. A ray of fear kept poking her when she stood before her boss and thus found herself stammering.

A simple moment could turn over the table. One such occasion did arrive for Bhuvana.

Varadharajan had gathered his team to brief on this recent case. There was pin-drop silence in the room.

“As you know, we will be handling Sharada’s case. She has been arrested on charges of murdering her twelve-year-old son for which she claims to innocent. We will ensure she gets released and the real culprit is behind bars. She is remanded initially for seven days. Bhuvana, meet her in the prison and get her to talk. We need not just details but the truth to set her free.”

“Yes, Sir!” Bhuvana stood and answered.

This was her first case of interacting with the client directly. She had read the details already, and it did seem complicated. At the same time, it was a great chance for her to prove herself to others and importantly, to her boss.

After an hour of waiting, Bhuvana was allowed to meet Sharada. In her forties, she looked pale and weak. Her eyes were red and swollen. The protruding bones in her body indicated the destitute life she led and also explained why her boss wanted to help her.

“You can sit.” Bhuvana was seated before her.

Sharada seemed uncomfortable.

“I will stand,” she replied feebly.

Bhuvana thought out of respect or guilt Sharada preferred to stand, but her body language showed otherwise.

She neared Sharada.

“Please tell me what is happening?”

“I. . I . . have my periods.”

“It is fine, please sit.”

“No, I don’t have a napkin.”

That sent shock waves to Bhuvana.

Bhuvana turned to inquire about the security woman but quickly Sharada stopped her her.

“I have already asked. She only laughed.”

Those words added fuel to the already raging fire inside Bhuvana.

“Wait. I will be back.”

Bhuvana walked to the women constable.

“Madam, can you provide my client with sanitary napkins?”

“No!” A blunt answer came in.

“May I know why?”

“She killed her son. She doesn’t deserve one, let her use her saree. She is a disgrace to motherhood.”

Bhuvana couldn’t tolerate the words anymore.

“I will be getting the packets from the nearby shop.”

“What? Do you think I have no other job? Your visiting time is over. You can come and give it tomorrow.” The lady shot back.

“Are you even a woman? Do you understand a human being like you is suffering from something that is common to womanhood? You aren’t here to judge if she is a criminal or not. She is a grieving mother. Even if she had been convicted then too she deserves a sanitary napkin during her periods. You can’t deny her. I will be back in twenty minutes. If you aren’t allowing me inside, I will slash your hand, become a prisoner, walk in here directly, and then hand over it to her.”

Bhuvana rushed out and as she said she was back in the specified time. The lady constable stared at her as she handed the packets to Sharada.

“Don’t worry. I will be back tomorrow and then we can discuss the rest.” Sharada thanked her with folded hands and overwhelming tears.

After six months of hearings and proceedings, Sharada came out as non-guilty.

It was also the time for some action. Bhuvana filed a petition against the state to look into the most important matter that pressed hard on women inmates, their menstrual hygiene.

“I am proud of you. Do what needs to be done. I will stand with you. Your voice isn’t just one woman’s voice, but for thousands of the oppressed,” Varadharajan declared.

Bhuvana was ready for the struggle. The battlefield welcomed her. Someday she would emerge successful. It would be thousands of women’s victories.

Author’s NoteThough the story is fiction, from a trustworthy source I once heard that a sanitary napkin was denied to a woman inmate who was in the investigation process, though this happened fifteen years ago.

Studies have shown that Indian prisons have poor menstrual hygiene in place.

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