New Delhi, March 26: Congress MP Sushmita Dev's campaign for tax-free sanitary napkins in the new goods and services tax regime has assumed a life of its own since she took it online a little over a fortnight ago.
Her Internet petition has secured more than two lakh signatures and attracted bipartisan support.
The Congress backed her personal initiative formally on March 8, International Women's Day, and individual members of at least three rival parties too have joined in.
Varun Gandhi (BJP), Baijayant "Jay" Panda (Biju Janata Dal) and K. Kavitha (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) have used social media to get the petition more endorsements.
Several Congress members from both Houses have added their voice to the campaign, with Shashi Tharoor writing to finance minister Arun Jaitley about the "unfair bracketing of sanitary napkins for tax purposes as a luxury product".
Dev's petition is a reiteration of a letter the Silchar MP had written to Jaitley on February 25, asking that sanitary napkins be made tax-free like condoms and contraceptives because they are a necessary safeguard for health and life.
The government is finalising the GST law and is expected to roll out a one-tax regime around the middle of the upcoming fiscal year. The tax on sanitary napkins now differs from state to state, being mostly around 12 per cent but going up to 14.5 per cent in some.
Dev argues that zero tax on sanitary napkins will make it more accessible to girls and women, thereby raising school attendance and women's participation in the workforce.
She has also contended that wider use of sanitary napkins would boost two of the Narendra Modi government's pet projects, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Swachh Bharat. Dev says that taxing sanitary napkins is unfair and falls foul of every legislation that guarantees equality before the law.
"Women are being taxed 12 months a year, for about 39 years, on a process they have no control over," she says.
Anticipating opposition from environmentalists as the napkins use a non-biodegradable plastic, the petition argues for a minimal tax on such napkins to encourage "environmental and health-friendly pads" (reusable cloth napkins). This comes with the spin-off of livelihood for rural women.
The only other such campaign on the petition website, Change.org, that has done so well in recent years is the one on Net neutrality, but it attracted much furore over the issue as well as several champions for the cause.
Dev's TaxFreeWings campaign began in a smaller way but is one of very few petitions to have touched the two-lakh mark.
Tax-free napkins have been a longstanding demand from women activists.
Studies have shown that about 70 per cent of Indian women cannot afford sanitary napkins.