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Project Rakt—A Move to a Movement

The world is currently marching towards a reality where equality is ensured to all, with women taking up leading roles in every field. With increasing connectivity, it is easier to access the bare necessities of life, helping countries work towards a future of development. Yet, in our own country, so many women live without access to basic sanitation facilities, which is especially challenging during the period of menstruation. According to a study published in 2011, only 12 per cent of Indian women have access to sanitary pads. It further states that the remaining 88 per cent use shocking alternatives like unsanitised cloth, dry leaves, ashes, and sand, leading to genital infections being 70 per cent more frequent. While the concept of opening up on these issues is a taboo in itself for most of Indian society, the fact that sanitary pads are relatively exorbitant for a majority of the population does not help.

Project Rakt, the brainchild of Devyani Mehta, a third-year student of Civil Engineering at MIT, Manipal, seeks to break the stigma around menstruation, while also helping underprivileged people access basic sanitation facilities. Speaking to the Post about what sparked the idea, she said, “I come from an army background and my father brought all necessities from the defence canteen where everything comes at lower prices. My sanitary pads came from there too, in bulk. I never needed to go out to buy even one packet. When the pandemic struck, I realised how lucky I was—I had a safe home and everything I needed in one place, including my sanitary essentials. It was not until I read about the problems menstruators across our country face with respect to accessibility and availability of sanitary pads, did I realize my privilege. I knew that I wanted to do something in order to help those in need. So, the idea of Rakt was born.

Menstrual taboos are everywhere. They are independently and repeatedly spread across different people and geographies. For example, a menstruating person is not allowed into the kitchen or a temple. While such restrictions helped protect women from compromising their already weak immunity during their period, with the healthcare systems and sanitary products of today, these customs are redundant.

Among the more infuriating examples of menstrual taboos is the incident that took place in Gujarat where women had to strip their undergarments to prove that they were not menstruating. The taboos associated with menstruation are deep-rooted, and change will be gradual. Project Rakt’s tagline—’A move to movement’, emphasises on the belief that small steps in the right direction take society forward. It is the thought behind the act that matters.

With the idea for Project Rakt brewing, Devyani contacted those she knew she could rely on. She presented her idea to them and was floored by their response, “What I loved the most was how instant their replies were. They all wanted to be a part of this movement, very enthusiastically, and were there for me, to support me, throughout my journey. I’m so grateful.

Project Rakt has received support from several people across the country—from government officials to huge foundations and organisations working towards the same goals. The organisation works in a very transparent manner, as detailed on their website. Upon registering, a mail is sent with the address of Rakt’s NGO partner, and a list of recommended donations. Orders for the same can be placed via online shopping platforms (Amazon, Flipkart). Once the order is placed, a screenshot is to be sent to Project Rakt. Similarly, upon receiving the order, the NGO will send a confirmation picture of the supplies to the organisation.

Distribution of sanitary products by Team Rakt

Devyani also spoke about how her own experiences have played a significant role in Project Rakt’s success, “I am an active part of AIESEC in MAHE and MAHE Toastmasters. Both these organisations have groomed me into someone capable of supporting such an organisation as an undergraduate. My experience and exposure have equipped me with the kind of personal and professional skills required. My parents have been extremely supportive and so has the rest of my family. My mother is actually my teammate who every now and then sits down to write something for Rakt, or constantly checks in on the PR aspect. My friends have guided and supported me, a few sure have surprised me. I’ve made so many new connections through Rakt and am so glad about the kind of networking opportunities this project has given to me, it has acquainted me with new people with a similar mindset, people that are driven to create an impact. I’m so grateful for all the support. I see Rakt growing and this wouldn’t have been possible without all these people.

Project Rakt has identified the deplorable situation which women face and has directed all its efforts to bring about a dynamic change. In a collaboration with Bhamla Foundation, Rakt took part in the raising of funds and a distribution drive for sanitary products in the slums of Mumbai. With the help of seven student-run clubs and organisations of Manipal, they managed to raise over 1.3 lakhs within a week, which was much more than their original goal of Rs. 50,000.

On 19th September, Devyani and her team were at the location, distributing the products. The drive was planned by Bhamla Foundation, with actress Rouble Nagi, and influencer Kashika Kapoor on ground too. Recounting her experience, Devyani said, “When you go on ground and face an issue, it is very different from what we feel while reading about menstrual taboos in the newspaper or on social media. I remember little children coming up to me and asking for a box of pads. They said their mothers had sent them because they were too busy to come themselves. Over a period of time, we realised that these women were embarrassed to collect the boxes.

Team Rakt then went from house-to-house, distributing the products, and educating the women about menstruation. They explained that it was a natural process—something not to be ashamed of. The women were open to change, but, Devyani believes that such matters ought to be repeated to people, and one-on-one conversation is the key. She said, “This is not something that will change overnight. I am glad we got this opportunity to talk to people, understand what they are facing and feeling, and then go about the process. I was very happy with the kind of support we got from our volunteers as well as a photographer.

On 16th October, Team Rakt, in collaboration with Inner Wheel Club, Bangalore-ITC, visited Cottolengo Special School, an institute for the specially-abled.  There, they came across the challenges faced by specially-abled girls and women when handling their period. Rakt was able to support thirty girls through this donation drive.

November brought with it yet another drive for the team, this time as a social partner of Manipal Institute of Technology’s annual tech fest, TechTatva’20. They strove to create an impact in three different communities in Bangalore—the city police, BBMP workers, and the caretakers that nurture the elderly. While women in the city police were already aware of the usual brands of sanitary pads, Team Rakt encouraged them to switch to more eco-friendly versions. “Every drive is a new experience and the one thing I’ve learnt is that more than the number of pads we distribute, it’s the connections we form and the stories we hear that helps us stay motivated to strive harder tomorrow,” said Devyani, when asked to comment on the successful drive.

Devyani was also the student speaker at Manipal Conclave’20. She spoke at length about the taboo surrounding of period talks and how Project Rakt is a step towards its destigmatisation. “I just want you all to look at the year,” said Devyani, addressing her audience. “This is 2020—an era where we are talking so much about gender equality, poverty, all the social issues we have been facing. In such an era, something as natural as menstruation is still a taboo. Something so natural and biological is still a problem for a lot of people across our country. Hence, as educated individuals, it is our responsibility and our duty to care for these people.

According to Devyani, they have supported over 1,675 women so far, by donating over 10,000 eco-friendly sanitary pads to areas in Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. With the support they are continuing to receive, they are striving towards creating an impact, as well as moving closer to their outlined goals.

Our country is far from putting an end to menstrual taboos, but Devyani’s belief is that changing one mind at a time is what makes all the difference. This generation’s strength lies in the fact that so many are open to change, both in society as well as our thinking. A prime example is that of the LGBTQA+ movement, and how people came together to support it. Movements need people to come together and with Rakt and other such initiatives, it is hoped that the masses will come together to stand up to change the way menstruation is perceived in our country.

Image Credits: The Photography Club, Manipal