Guwahati: Every year, floods ravage the state of Assam, leaving lakhs of people in relief shelter for days, and even weeks at times. Rima*, 15, was one such girl who escaped her inundated village last year. Another crisis awaited her as she reached the relief camp a couple of kilometres from her village Hatbor in Assam’s Nagaon district; she got her periods and there was no sanitary napkin available, not even a dry cloth.
She had to bleed in her skirt for hours until her aunt found a piece of cloth to help her get through her monthly cycle, informed Mayuri Bhattacharjee, a Tezpur-based menstrual hygiene educator.
To find out why sanitary napkins are not provided in relief camps, EastMojo spoke with Bhabesh Kalita, minister of state for revenue and disaster management. “The government is not distributing the item because it is not mentioned as a relief material in the list provided by the revenue and disaster management department,” he said.
Only the items mentioned in the list provided by revenue and disaster management authorities are eligible as relief materials during times of disasters. Nonetheless, civil society organisations and NGOs have taken it upon themselves to distribute sanitary napkins along with other flood relief materials.
S Anandhi, a professor at Madras Institute at Development Studies, Chennai, said, this problem persists across India. Basic women needs such as sanitary napkins are considered as special needs, and it is important for the government to “recognise this [sanitary napkins] as general need, not a special need”, she added.
Bhattacharjee is running a campaign on Change.org asking the government of Assam to build 50 women-friendly flood shelters in the 10 most flood-prone districts in the state for the safety and dignity of women.
Not just sanitary napkins, relief camps lack even basic privacy provisions in common toilets, and girls and women are often harassed by men in the camps during their stay.
Also, trafficking spurts during such times. According to a recent report, 19 women were rescued from New Bongaigaon Railway station in the state. They were supposed to be trafficked to Gujarat with the promise of a job.
Keeping this in mind, Bhattacharjee in an updated petition has written to Himanta Biswa Sarma as he holds two important portfolios in the Assam government — health and finance department — seeking women-friendly flood relief schemes.
She said “gender-sensitive disaster management” approach is important, with a focus on not just menstrual hygiene facility but also safety and security. Further, to get a clear picture on the status of sanitary napkins in disaster relief material list, EastMojo inquired about the same across Northeast India.
It was found that like Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, too, do not provide sanitary napkins. While in Sikkim, it is provided only if there is any requirement during disasters.
A senior journalist based in Imphal, Manipur informed that sanitary napkins do not come under the basic needs for disaster and relief materials. In Mizoram, Vanlalhriatpuia Khiangte, a Doordarshan Kendra stringer, confirmed the same.
An official of the district disaster management of the state land revenue and disaster management department of Sikkim said, “It depends as per the needs and types of the disaster. It’s not in the relief material list of the state but we have been and will provide if there is the need and requirements of the sanitary pads during the time of disasters.”
Meanwhile, in Nagaland and Tripura, sanitary pads are distributed as relief materials.
An official from the Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority told EastMojo that sanitary napkins provided in the emergency kit are distributed under the list of basic relief materials. Citing relief materials provided during the massive landslide that took place at Kiphire last year, the official said that along with food and essential commodities, sanitary napkins are provided as a part of basic necessity.
The official then added that sanitary napkins are listed under the list of basic relief materials and are provided as pre-disaster measures also.
Tripura state disaster management officer Sarat Kumar Das said that there is a provision in the state disaster management to provide the inmates with sanitary napkins whenever required.
“We have been providing the inmates with all the required relief materials in the relief camps across the state. In the recent flood that hit the state on July 15, a large number of inmates took shelter in the relief camps. We have supplied baby food, tissues and even sanitary napkins across the relief camps,” Das said.
The status for Arunachal Pradesh could not be ascertained at the time of filing this report.