Sanitising life

Protests against the way the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime has been rolled out are massive in the past few days of its implementation. It is understandable that a new system will take time to settle down, and more so in this case as it virtually amounts to a total overhaul of India’s market-related taxation mechanisms.

That brings with it problems, and one will get to know more of the complications as the days pass. The proof of the pudding is in its eating. How the new taxation regime tastes is yet to be ascertained.

The idea behind the system — namely to unify taxation across the board and across the nation and realising the concept of ‘one nation, one tax’ — is not what has been put into work. Clearly, as details of the new system emerge, it has rubbed many sections of the population the wrong way.

This has hit the citizens hard and made life more complicated for them. Take for instance the hefty 12 per cent tax imposed on sanitary napkins, drawing massive protests among women across the nation.

From the looks of it, the central government treats sanitary napkins in the list of luxury items. Imposition of high tax on this comes even as items such as condoms, sindoor and bangles have been exempted from tax. Hence, the slogan, ‘Sex is a choice, Period is not’.

The failure on the part of the government to understand the significance of sanitary napkins in today’s life is both strange and unpardonable. Its use is linked to maintenance of personal hygiene among women, no matter where they live or what economic strata they belong to.

It may be noted that many NGO type organisations working in rural India have undertaken massive drives to make female village dwellers to adopt use of sanitary napkins from a young age for the sake of personal hygiene. It is true that most villagers in this country do not have easy access to such rudimentary health products, let alone being able to afford the high cost involved.

The government should have been more sensitive in the matter of imposing a tax on sanitary napkins in the new tax regime. The way forward should have been to altogether abolish tax on this alongside other health related items of daily use, especially for women.

It must be noted that prior to the implementation of GST, sanitary napkins were taxed in various states at different levels, ranging from 5 per cent to as high as nearly 13.68 per cent.

At a time when the government is not only spending heavily on missions such as Swachh Bharat but also taxing the citizens for such programmes, it will be in the fitness of things that items such as sanitary napkins are excluded altogether from the taxation scheme.

Woman empowerment is not simply a slogan. When the government is levying tax and cess on all citizens to build toilets and take up other projects to claim that it has achieved zero open defecation in small pockets, the desire to tax essential health products such as sanitary napkins make certain slogans ring true.

Such is the allegation that because the GST Council solely consists of men, the issues very relevant to women have been totally ignored. This shows today’s administrators’ disconnect with ground realities.

Menstrual hygiene in adolescent girls is an important factor since it also relates to reproductive health. Today, Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) is becoming a very common ailment among women who have unsafe habits in menstrual hygiene.

According to reports, girls in rural India tend to miss school for an average of 6 days a month due to inability to handle menstrual cycle. This results in a whopping 23 per cent of girls dropping out of school on reaching puberty which obviously critically undermines their potential as future citizens capable of contributing in nation building activities. It is the responsibility of not only the parents but also of government and society at large to help young women cope with exclusive female health issues.

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