Situated merely 11 kilometers Eastwards of the archaeological destination of Mandu, their ancestral land of Jamnia constitutes the rich forest belt that is home to India’s many indigenous tribes, such as the Bhils and Gonds. Both, Veerangana and Shubhangana Jamnia grew up admiring their father, the younger Rajkumarsahib of Jamnia as he championed several social welfare causes that directly impacted the people of and around his Jamnia. In tandem with that, their proximity to tribal areas and wildlife deeply inculcated values of sustainability and environmental awareness in them.
A postgraduate student at the London School of Economics, her country’s astonishing lapses in public policy led Shubhangana to take up the subject as her specialisation. Her sister Veerangana is an Economics major from Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College and endeavours to work in the world of sustainable fashion. Together, they have launched a series of social welfare initiatives for social welfare and wildlife conservation, the most recent one being Dor. Inaugurated earlier this year in October, Dor is a sustainable fashion initiative that generates proceeds for social welfare causes in Madhya Pradesh.
“The name ‘Dor’ literally means thread, and we aim to use it to connect the people of today to jointly unfurl a better tomorrow. With about 68% of Indian population living in rural areas, I wish to build my career in policy making for rural empowerment. Even though the number of developing villages is on the rise, we are paying a heavy price for this development through a depletion of our ecosystem. Urbanising villages isn’t the real empowerment of villages. Instead, real empowerment results our of natives being able to preserve their surrounding environment”, says Shubhangana.
Dor made a promising start by collaborating with Sanitree, a Scottish company that devices sustainable and ethical means of tackling period poverty and stigma around the world. It uses crowdfunding to finance a Jaipur-based co-operative of hundreds of local women who produce reusable cloth pads that are then freely distributed amongst India’s rural belts. Incidentally, Scotland has appeared in fairly recent news bulletins for being the world’s first country to make menstrual pads free of cost. One hopes for other countries to soon follow suit in a similar prioritisation of social welfarist policies.
Within two months since its inception, Shubhangana and Veerangana’s initiative is on its way to channelising these reusable and environmentally friendly pads to 89 villages in Madhya Pradesh. Made entirely from organic materials, Sanitree’s pads do not contain the slightest trace of plastic and are fully biodegradable. Thus, true to their familial values, Shubhangana and Veerangana are effectively pioneering a cause that ensures rural empowerment and environmental conservation go hand in hand. “With only 2-3% of rural women using sanitary pads in India, profits from Dor are channelised to make sanitary pads available to them. What’s more, each kit can be reused for upto 2 years!” Shubhangana adds.
In recent times, India has seen a meteoric rise in its native manufacturing of sustainable menstrual hygiene products. Brands like PeeSafe, Carmesi, Heyday and Saathi are amongst the growing number of environmentally friendly sanitary napkins that cater to the hypoallergenic and environmentally conscious segment of menstruating girls and women in multiple urban centers. However, most of these are limited by the price component that limits their affordability to the nation’s elite and upper-middle classes. The stark disparities between urban and rural India’s access to menstrual hygiene is a contingency that has been glaring us in the face for decades. Poor menstrual hygiene due to poverty and taboo has caused many women serious illnesses and recurrent infections. Some of these even bear the potential of being life-threatening. The negation of women’s menstrual rights hygiene in our tax reforms also made for a dismal sight, but the government’s exemption of tax on sanitary napkins has been embraced as a welcomed, albeit a grossly delayed change.
The development sector has made some commendable effort in distributing disposable sanitary napkins to the poor while also gaining employment, but the story wasn’t as rosy as shown in Akshay Kumar’s blockbuster film Padman. Budget factors and the subsequent inferiority of manufacturing material are two of the multiple constraints in these models. However, initiatives such as Sanitree prove the possibility of garnering welfare collectives to champion the cause. And the fortification provided by young, local elites such as Shubhangana and Veerangana Jamnia is vital in ensuring that these initiatives percolate into the rural grassroots of India. To date, almost 25% of India’s girls abstain from attending classes during their menstrual period. This is merely one of the many statistics implying the challenges that await us, and delaying action only adds to the issue. Many CSR initiatives too have recently expressed vocal support for the cause of safe menstrual hygiene. For example, Rajasthan Royals carrying a sanitary brand sponsor’s name on the top of their jerseys during this year’s IPL was a revolutionary step in its own right. True to their example, the Jamnia girls prove that small scale enterprises following similar suit and undertaking social responsibilities is as easily possible as it is fulfilling.
“While menstrual hygiene is just the first cause taken up by Dor, our next aim is to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on child education in rural areas. Additionally, we run a parallel initiative for wildlife conservation-Tails of the Forgotten by creating social media awareness around animal rights and their protection”, the two sisters conclude.