GuwahatiIn a bid to woo voters for the February 27 Meghalaya assembly election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Congress have promised free sanitary napkins to women in the state, which has a higher female voter population.The move comes days after PadMan, the Hindi movie starring Akshay Kumar based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganatham who introduced low cost sanitary napkins, hit cinemas.The saffron party’s vision document for the state released last week, six days after the movie hit the theatres, promised free napkins to women from below poverty line (BPL) families.On Sunday, three days after BJP released its vision document, Sushmita Dev, Lok Sabha MP from Assam and president of Congress’s women wing, also made a similar promise.Without divulging specifics, the Congress leader said free sanitary napkins would be provided to women in Meghalaya if the party is voted back to power. Dev also urged the Centre to exempt GST on the product.“If the price is subsidised, it becomes a product that is affordable in the rural market, so private companies take it there,” she told media persons in Shillong.Significantly, both these parties did not promise free napkins in Tripura, where polling took place on Sunday and in Nagaland, where polling is scheduled on February 27 — the same date as Meghalaya.In Christian-majority Nagaland, the Congress promised pilgrimage to Jerusalem at subsidised costs while BJP promised free trips to the holy city for 50 senior citizens each year.Christians are a majority in Meghalaya too, but both parties are focusing on sanitary pads and not Jerusalem — maybe with an eye on women voters.The three major tribes in Meghalaya — Khasi, Garo and Jaintia — are matrilineal and women voters outnumber the men in the state. There are 9.29 lakh women voters in the state against 9.12 lakh men.However, civil society activists have denounced the idea.“Parties are raking up flimsy issues like sanitary napkins while there are more serious things happening like violence against women, trafficking, etc. Political parties are not able to grasp the real issues,” said Angela Rangad, chief of Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR), a civil rights body.Others feel promise of free sanitary napkins doesn’t make sense as women in rural Meghalaya use other eco-friendly alternatives, which are less polluting, than the non-bio-degradable napkins.“Rampant use of sanitary napkins will create a pollution hazard. It seems political parties want to benefit suppliers and manufacturers of napkins more. The promise won’t make much difference to women voters,” said Agnes Kharsiing, president of Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO), a NGO.On Monday, both TUR and CSWO framed a women’s rights charter, which they distributed to parties contesting the assembly polls in Meghalaya.The charter urged parties to focus on issues like gender policy, gender budgeting, gender-based violence and socio-economic protection of women and children. Free sanitary napkins didn’t find mention in the charter.