DU Beat interviews Tanisha Pandit, a second-year student from Kirori Mal College (KMC), Delhi University, who is the founder of ‘Ritva,’ which works to spread awareness about menstruation.
Busting myths and stereotypes, she is young, relentless and ready to give back to society. At just 19, she has registered her organization “Ritva” and has reached 10K Instagram followers. Not only that, she has collaborated with societies from different colleges and conducted sanitary pad distribution drives in many rural areas.
1. Let’s start with some simple ones, you are the founder of Ritva Organisation. What is your NGO about?
Ritva’s primary goal is to normalise and destigmatize menstruation in India, while our secondary goal is to spread awareness about sustainable menstruation. We ask the entire menstruating population to switch from plastic pads to reusable pads, biodegradable pads or menstrual cups. Ritva is also working to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene, especially in rural areas. We want recognition of menstruation not as a women’s issue, but as a human issue.
2. Quite a lot of people (especially males) are not taught about what exactly menstruation is, Where do you think the problem lies? And do education and parenting play an important role?
Yes, Of course, I think we are not particularly taught about menstruation in school, for me, I learnt about it from my mom, that too after I had my first period. I think that’s why guys miss all of this information, and as a result, they don’t know a thing about pads or period cramps, all they know is that once a month every menstruating woman bleeds. But, I strongly feel that students should be taught about this in school.
3. What inspires you to work for this cause?
I was very much inclined towards doing social work since my middle school started. This made me visit slums and talk to people about the issues they face in their lives. It also made me realize how big and important an issue menstrual hygiene is. I met a lot of people on my way who motivated me to start working on these problems and thus I established Ritva Foundation.
4. I come from a classic traditional Hindu household, where women aren’t allowed to cook while they are menstruating. What is your take on this?
Honestly, two years back, these restrictions were also imposed on me and I was not allowed to enter the temple or the kitchen on the days when I was menstruating. But then, my mother defied these restrictions and started cooking on the days when she was on her periods. That brought a positive change in my household and now, me and my sister too are allowed to cook when on periods. So, if someone wants, they should be allowed to cook while they are menstruating.
5. There has been an increasing demand for providing ‘Period Leaves’ to the menstruating population in offices. Do you agree with this demand?
There are paternity leaves and there are maternity leaves, then why can’t there be period leaves? Of course, no one’s asking for an entire week off each month. But two or three days a month for period leaves is not too much to ask for. A lot of women go through a very tough phase during their periods, the pain is just intolerable and most of them would love just a couple of days off. This would just increase their productivity when they rejoin work.
6. Building an NGO from scratch must have been troublesome, what were some of the obstacles you faced? And how has this pandemic affected your work?
Oh yes, it was too tough. There were many obstacles, first I had to find like-minded people who could work with my shoulder to shoulder in making the NGO what it is today. Thankfully, I came across Preksha, who is the Vice President of Ritva. Then there was funding. I had to convince them to trust me for the job, I had to make them believe that they could invest in our cause. And then finally there was the paperwork, which was necessary to register Ritva as an NGO. This pandemic was tough on us, we couldn’t organise meetings, workshops or drives. But then things happened and the team was creative with their ideas, as a result, we launched signature campaigns, we did online awareness campaigns, we also went to rural areas to distribute eco-friendly sanitary pads. Overall, it was tough, but we somehow managed to get through.
7. I have noted that most women do not prefer to talk about their periods with their brothers or their fathers. Why do you think this happens? How can we change it?
When my younger sister started menstruating and mom taught her everything about it, how to change pads and all. But then, after all this, she asked her to not to talk about it to her father. My younger sister is really close to my father, and then one day she asked my mom, why can’t I talk to dad about this?
If I’m going through something, he should know about it. So, she brought the change in our house. And now we talk openly about it. I think periods need to be normalised, it’s normal like everything else. Parents should involve their children in these conversations. Periods should be discussed in households.
8. Why is there a certain taboo which revolves around sanitary pads?
This is all because of the stereotypes which have been propagated throughout the country. My mother also asked me to hide the pads and wrap them with newspapers so that my father or brother doesn’t see it. But, I stopped doing that as I felt there’s nothing to hide. And that’s how these things will change, from household to household. That’s what you gotta do to end this taboo.
9. Only a section of the population uses pads, why is that? And what is Ritva doing to bring a change in this aspect?
Sadly, the people are not aware of different schemes as the Government of India manufactures biodegradable sanitary pads at only 1rs. per pad. Having tried them myself, I can say that they are comfortable and can be used by everyone. So, as far as the question goes, there is this massive need to educate people about this, people need to realise that using pads is important and that there are very cheap pads readily available in the market. Ritva even distributes sanitary pads in rural areas and works actively to spread awareness about the importance of wearing a pad and maintaining good menstrual hygiene.
10. You’ve also been actively working to create a plastic-free environment for which you endorse and encourage the use of non-plastic pads. But how do you plan on competing in the market which is owned by brands making plastic-pads such as Whisper and Stayfree?
The biggest difference is the marketing and advertisements. Big brands such as Whisper and Stayfree dominate the markets as they have enough money to advertise their brands from Yami Gautam. While the brands which make non-plastic pads do not have enough capital to advertise. Things will only change when people realise the damage caused by plastic pads. There is no proper disposal of these plastic pads, more often than not, they end up choking the environment or animals end up dead after swallowing these pads. Ritva educates people about these effects. We, as responsible citizens, can start using non-plastic pads for a better tomorrow. Our target group as of now is the college-going youth, we conduct seminars in different colleges, to encourage people to switch from plastic pads to non-plastic ones.
11. What is the significance of Ritva’s social media presence?
Ritva exists because of its social media presence. We have launched signature campaigns, we have held conferences, debates and competitions on Instagram. We have even collaborated with different societies from different colleges. During the pandemic especially, it became really easy for us to reach a massive audience very easily and we found a lot of people who connected with us, helped us out with donations, enlightened us with their ideas and whatnot. We went live with a lot of famous people to spread awareness and even celebrities like Sayani Gupta helped us out by sending video messages promoting the message of un-plastic menstruation.
12. Finally, what is your long term vision with Ritva? Apart from Destigmatizing menstruation and creating a plastic-free environment, what are some other social issues that Ritva might cover in the near future?
There is this huge problem of waste disposal of pads, as people usually end up throwing them with normal waste, which has adverse effects on nature. We are looking in it, and we will urge people to throw these pads into inseminators, which is the tool used for the proper disposal of pads. We have also started this ‘we too’ campaign, where we are encouraging people to talk about their sexual abuse or sexual harassment experiences. All in all, Ritva will always work for empowering women.
Feature Image Credits: Tanisha Pandit, Ritva
Interview and Transcript by Harsh Paliwal for DU Beat