Young man changing unhygienic sanitary practices in rural Jharkhand
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Young man changing unhygienic sanitary practices in rural Jharkhand

The young reformer uses emotive catchphrases to make women comfortable conversing on a subject still considered taboo in our country

ranchi Updated: Jul 16, 2017 17:46 IST
B Vijay Murty
B Vijay Murty
Hindustan Times, Ranchi
A young philanthropist - Mangesh Jha distributing sanitary napkin among villager during his menstrual health campaign at Jonha village in Ranchi(B Vijay Murty/ HT Photo)

Twenty-one-year old Nirmala Devi (name changed), resident of remote Rasabera village, around 50 km from here suffered from severe reproductive tract infection (RTI) on umpteen occasions.

With the government healthcare facilities in shambles and the family unable to afford visiting private doctors, the mother of two would often visit local rural medical practitioners for solace. The disease is far from getting cured though.

Last year, a young social scientist, Mangesh Jha, who gave up his lucrative career in hotel management, travelled to the village that has no roads, no electricity, hence no television, and no health centre to study the socio-cultural and health habits of local tribal populace.

To his utter surprise, he learnt that women, including Nirmala, resorted to shocking alternatives to sanitary hygiene such as ashes, husk, grass and even sand during menstruation. Impact of unhygienic sanitary practices had made these women vulnerable to fungal infections, RTI and urinary tract infection (UTI).

A shaken Jha, 29, went back home and requested his mother to stitch sanitary pads, which he distributed among the local women along with few educated and aware girls. A year hence, Rasabera’s women have undergone a lot of behavioural changes, particularly in terms of menstrual health, albeit lot still needs to be done. Women who used to shy away initially, now discuss their problems openly and they are simultaneously guided to government hospitals where they get remedies for their aliments free.

In order to spread awareness, Jha groomed and trained a local girl, Dharmi Kumari, to educate women on the dos and don’ts of menstruation hygiene. They also set up a night school to educate women and elders who keep busy in their fields and household chores during the day.

As he forayed further in the area, Jha found similar practices being followed by women across the tribal belt along the picturesque Jonha Fall. HT team recently travelled with him and found that let alone using them, women in the interior villages hadn’t even heard of sanitary napkins.

“More than 70% women still follow traditional methods like ash, dry leaves and sand,” said Poonam Devi, wife of tribal leader, Sohan Lal Munda of Jiddu village under Jonha panchayat. She said the little awareness one sees today is primarily because of the school going girls, who get sanitary napkins free from school, and Jha’s individual efforts.

Raso Devi from the neighbouring village said, thanks to the awareness spread by Jha, some women have shifted to using rags and old clothes shunning traditional methods. Those who can afford are buying sanitary napkins from market.

Jha recently launched a Facebook campaign to seek people’s support in his mission. The efforts are bearing fruits. People are coming up with small donations in kind as he doesn’t accept cash.

A fortnight back, he got 28 sacks full of sanitary pads from a Delhi-based philanthropist, AD Jham, which he distributed among the women.

The young reformer uses emotive catchphrases to make women comfortable conversing on a subject still considered taboo in our country. “This happens to my mother, my sister, as it happens to you and all women in the world. There is no need to feel shy and hide if you are in pain. Take this and use it. Stop those traditional habits,” he says in local Nagpuri dialect while distributing the sanitary pads to women.

Patti Devi, a government health worker, from Jaratoli village, said, Jha not only discusses problems but also provides remedies. “He has trained many local women in housekeeping and employed them in hospitals across Ranchi. These women are now the torch-bearers of health and hygiene awareness in the region,” she said.

Says Mangesh, “You don’t need crores of funds to bring a small social or health reform. A small individual effort can also bring a revolution.”

First Published: Jul 16, 2017 17:46 IST