Published: 28th May 2019
Here's how photographer Niraj Gera is urging the Prime Minister to provide free sanitary napkins to poor women
Niraj has come up with a photo series titled 'Sacred Stains', where he depicts the issues faced by menstruating women across the country
The teenage girl with a tear-stained face stares right into your eyes. You may want to know what she has to say, but she cannot utter a word. Her mouth is closed, with a sanitary napkin. This thought-provoking photograph which essays a women's silence about menstruation-related issues owing to societal taboos is captured by photographer Niraj Gera.
Popular for his photo series 'Sacred Transformations' that showed us the danger and pain of acid attacks, Niraj's new series shows how even in the 21st century, a natural process like menstruation is enslaving women in an invisible cage built by the patriarchal society. It also points finger at a bigger issue — 82 per cent of women in India do not have access to sanitary napkins, tampons or menstrual cups. Along with these photographs, Niraj has also begun a petition on change.org, asking the Government of India to provide free sanitary pads/tampons to women living below the poverty line.
There are seven photographs in this series. One of the most intriguing images shows a young girl, who is surrounded by seven blood-stained objects, that are shaped like sanitary napkins. There is a leaf, a block of clay, a folded piece of newspaper, parts of hay, a piece of rag and a piece of cloth. "Cloth may still be a luxurious option for those who use pads made of hay, leaves, mud, and soil and such other life-threatening materials, not realising what it might do their body. It is not only heart wrenching but also terrifying to even imagine how they live," says Niraj.
On the World Menstrual Hygiene Day, we caught up with this photographer, who spoke to us at length about his photographs and how he plans to raise awareness on menstrual hygiene. Excerpts:
What was the inspiration behind this series of photographs?
A friend once suggested that I speak at an event about the stigma associated with the menstruation. When I went through the information provided I was shocked. It was disheartening to know that 82 per cent of the females in India are not using sanitary pads, tampons or other hygienic options while their periods. Over 20 per cent of girls drops out of school completely after reaching puberty. These facts stirred my soul from deep within and I decided to take up this cause in whatever capacity I could. I have decided to put to use my expertise in giving a voice to the unsaid and unheard emotions of the women through his photographs.
How long did you take to complete the shoot?
It took me 6-7 months to complete the shoot. I enjoyed the entire journey, as it helped me understand the cause and problem on a deeper level. I visited various slums, villages, NGOs, institutes and colleges to understand the depth and intensity of this problem. I also visited Bihar and Nepal for this photo series, in order to make it more authentic.
What were some of the difficulties that you had to face in the process?
During the making of series, I was faced with fair share of challenges, like getting women onboard for the presentation of this issue in photographs was not as easy as it might appear to be. There were many well-educated girls who despite being comfortable with the idea of being photographed denied associating themselves with this kind of an issue. I also faced a lot of discouragement from various people for working on this subject. Being a male counterpart of this society did not really serve in my favour and I had to face quite a lot of problem in countering the stigmas prevalent in society both for men and women and getting females to talk frankly on this issue. However, this did not stop me from pursuing what I had in mind.
Can you tell us a little about the change.org campaign?
In the recent Lok Sabha election campaign, political parties promised around Rs 5000 to 6000 per month to those families who are living below the poverty line whereas the cost of hygienic sanitary pads ranges from Rs 10 Rs 12 for a month's usage. Through this campaign, we urged the Prime Minister Narendra Modi the Government of India to hear the silent cry of these poor women/girls, who are suffering every month because of the lack of hygienic amenities, and provide them eco-friendly pads or tampons.
How has the reaction been so far?
The response to this petition is phenomenal. I am really touched with the way people are taking ownership of this cause. I am receiving a lot of inspiring messages about this petition. This response has motivated me even more, to ensure that those underprivileged women/ girls live a healthier and happier life after receiving and using the sanitary pads. If we get some more support from media, celebrities, politicians, influencers & most importantly general public then I am very sure that very soon mothers and sisters of this nation will get freedom from various infections & diseases related to menstruation hygiene
Have a look at the photographs here: