Anger at India sanitary pad poll pledge

Indian students hold posters and sanitary napkins during a protest over a 12% tax on sanitary pads as part of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Kolkata on June 16, 2017. Image copyright AFP

Women activists have criticised two of India's major political parties who have made sanitary towels a key promise for upcoming state elections.

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party, which rules the southern state of Karnataka, have promised free sanitary pads to all women if they are elected.

The pledge comes after India imposed a 12% tax on sanitary products in July, causing much anger and protests.

But activists are not convinced.

"As part of a manifesto, it is nothing to be celebrated. First you impose Goods and Services Tax (GST) on sanitary napkins and then you offer them for free.

"This doublespeak exposes their tokenistic approach towards women's hygiene," the co-convenor of the Karnataka Women's Health Movement, Dr Akhila, who only uses her first name, told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi.

"It is one thing to offer sanitary pads. But has the government ensured toilets in government schools with running water? The problem is that those in power do not address structural issues and cultural issues on a subject like menstruation,'' she added.

Jyoti Hitnal, who works with a non-governmental organisation, told BBC Hindi that she found it "laughable" that political parties should today suddenly wake up to the subject of sanitary napkins, which they consider "taboo" - without even creating an awareness about health and women's hygiene.

"What are you promising without them knowing what women's hygiene is?" she asked.

Both parties are also trying to outdo each other on this front.

The Congress party began by promising free sanitary towels to women who hold Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards and female students.

The BJP then followed by saying all women would get free sanitary pads. This led the Congress to also revise its manifesto.

Despite the widespread scepticism, M Neela of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) told BBC Hindi that she was glad that political parties have at least belatedly recognised that sanitary pads are an issue and are not "taboo" products that should be taxed.

The Karnataka polls are being bitterly contested by both parties, who are treating it as a bellwether ahead of scheduled general elections in 2019.

Analysts say the wooing of women has worked well for other state politicians like Nitish Kumar in the eastern state of Bihar, whose schemes like free uniforms, bicycles and sanitary napkins for female students have proved immensely popular.

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