On India’s 74th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his 7th speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. As has been made a tradition by Prime Minister Modi, the Independence Day speech has been changed from a mere hailing of secularism and the spirit of India to talking about the ‘report card’ of the government in the past one year and a brief about what the government aims to achieve in the next one year.
However, Prime Minister Modi seems to be using his Independence Day speeches for another crucial task: To break taboos. To talk about certain issues that are far from being drawing room conversations. The uncomfortable truths that hurt the Nation, but are seldom discussed in the corridors of power.
During his speech on Independence Day 2020, Prime Minister spoke about the importance of women’s hygiene and the importance of sanitary napkins. PM Modi said that over 5 crore sanitary pads have been given to poor women at ₹1 each through 6,000 Jan Aushadhi stores.
For a Prime Minister to talk about women’s hygiene and what the government has achieved on that front by ways of making sanitary pads available to rural and vulnerable women is certainly a first.
Menstruation is often regarded as a taboo subject in most homes in India. While it is not considered ‘impure’, as many would have us believe, but it is certainly not a subject that is discussed freely.
By extension, women’s hygiene also is a subject that is not a subject that has come up often in public discourse, especially when one talks about policy formation and government initiatives.
Prime Minister Modi, by talking about Sanitary napkins, the importance of women’s healthcare and what the government is doing to ensure that, has broken a crucial barrier and a taboo that will take India a long way into achieving standards of women’s healthcare that is at par with the rest of the world.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Modi had broken another norm in 2014, when from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the PM had spoken about the problem India faces with open defecation. He had declared that his government’s aim is to ensure that all districts in India become open defecation free.
“We are in the 21st Century and yet there is still no dignity for women as they have to go out in the open to defecate and they have to wait for darkness to fall. Can you imagine the number of problems they have to face because of this?” PM Modi had asked in his 2014 speech.
He further said, “People may criticise me for talking about toilets from the Red Fort. But I am from a poor family, I have seen poverty first hand. For the poor to get dignity, it has to start from here.”
The importance of cleanliness, the all-pervasive dirt in public spaces in India and the lack of basic amenities like toilets in poverty-stricken households was a subject that was seldom spoken about even though India saw decades of politicians promising to make India poverty-free. In a first, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, PM Modi had launched the Swacch Bharat initiative and declared his intention to make India a clean place to live.