It has been about two years since the free distribution of sanitary napkins to adolescent girls under the Shuchi Scheme, a menstrual hygiene programme covering around 17 lakh girls studying at government schools in the State, was abruptly stopped. This is affecting not just the girls’ health, but also their education.
“I will have to spend at least ₹70 a month for sanitary napkins. My parents earn around ₹200 a day. How do I ask them to buy pads every month? I am not the only girl child at home. I am forced to use cloth though I don’t like it,” a student from Higher Primary School at Nandikur in Kalaburagi district said.
A teacher at Ganajalakhed said that girl students who eagerly asked when the scheme would resume have now given up. Girls studying in IX and X at Udanur village said that they were somehow managing to get pads from a local Anganwadi paying ₹10 a pack.
A science teacher at Udanur village said that she regularly taught the girls about maintaining hygiene when using cloths in place of pads. “As a science teacher, it is my responsibility to guide students. These children cannot afford pads from medical stores,” she said.
The girls at Taj Sultanpur said that the bigger problem they face is absence of bathroom or any private space during menstruation. “Be it pads or cloth, changing is a big problem as we don’t have a proper place to do so in our school. We take permission from lady teachers, go home to change and sometimes, don’t return to the school,” a girl in the school said.
Most of the schools that The Hindu visited had neither functional toilets with water nor dustbins. In some schools, the functional toilets are not available for students but reserved for teachers. For instance, the Government High School at Ganajalakhed had two toilets, one of which was functional but locked for the use of male teachers. Boys relieve in open places and girls go home. Interestingly, Kalaburagi was declared as open-defecation free district back in September 2018.
Vittal Vaggan, a Dalit writer and teacher at Taj Sultanpur High School, said that many girls simply skip classes during their menstrual periods.
“We don’t know why the government discontinued the Shuchi programme. The total cost for the free supply of sanitary napkins to the schools in the State would not cross ₹50 crores a year and it is not a big burden for the State,” Mr. Vaggan said.
What the court said
Hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by the Anti-Corruption Council of India, the Karnataka High Court had, in May 2021, directed the State government “to implement in letter and spirit” the scheme.
It had also made it clear that “the provision of separate toilets for adolescent girls in schools and that of [providing] sanitary napkins to such girls on a regular basis are all instances of not only empowerment of the girl child, but also implementation of the fundamental right under Article 21A of the Constitution insofar as girls aged between six to 14 are concerned”.
During the hearing, the government counsel had told the court that the administrative approval would be sought in the same month and around 2.04 crore sanitary napkins would be procured within 90 days thereafter for the implementation of the scheme. But there is no sign of the implementation of the Shuchi Scheme visible on the ground.