‘Free condoms too?’: Indian official mocks schoolgirl for requesting sanitary pads

A civil servant in India's eastern state of Bihar was severely criticised for her "insensitive" response to a school girl's request for free sanitary napkins.

At an event organised with Unicef, a teenage girl asked Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Harjot Kaur Bamhrah, why can't the government provide menstruating people with sanitary napkins worth Rs 20-30 (£0.23-£0.34).

Ms Kaur Bamhrah, who is an official in the women and child welfare ministry, responded by saying that there is no end to demands and soon people will expect clothes and contraception from the government as well.

“Tomorrow you'll say the government can give jeans too. And why not some beautiful shoes after that," she said.

The visibly annoyed official continued: "Eventually, you will expect the government to give you family planning methods, and condoms, too.”

"Why is there a need to take everything for free. This way of thinking needs to change. Do it yourself?”

In India, menstruation still remains a subject of taboo where menstruators, who often lack access to sanitary products, are forced to isolate or put under restrictions.

Period poverty and lack of sanitary napkins drive nearly 23 million girls out of school after they begin menstruating in India.

According to the country's latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) report, nearly 50 per cent of women aged 15-24 years don't have access to sanitary products and use cloth for menstrual protection.

In Bihar, which is one of the poorest states in India, where the "Empowered Daughters" workshop was held on Tuesday, only 59 per cent of women use a hygienic method of menstrual protection.

The student countered the official's remarks stating that the elected government was duty-bound to provide citizens with certain facilities.

Ms Kaur Bamhrah snapped: "Don't vote, then. This is the height of stupidity. Become Pakistan. Do you vote in lieu of money or amenities."

The student was quick to retort: "I am an Indian. Why should I?”

When a student complained about the broken girls’ toilet at her school where boys often enter, the official responded with another bizarre statement.

She said: “Tell me, do you have separate toilets at home? If you keep asking for a lot things at different places, how will it work?”

Since then the video of the conversation has been widely shared on social media, drawing backlash from several corners of Indian society.

Madan Sahani, the state's social welfare minister told The Indian Express that the "workshop was meant to encourage them [students]" and the official shouldn't have discouraged them.

“Our department secretary will speak to her on Thursday.”

The National Commission for Women said it has “taken cognisance of the shameful remarks” and has sought an explanation for her “inappropriate statement”.

Meanwhile, Ms Kaur Bamhrah claimed that the event was reported wrongfully in a deliberate attempt to malign her.

“I am known to be one of the most vociferous champion of women rights and empowerment,” she told NDTV.

She added: “Some mischievous elements against whom stringent action has been taken by WCDC [women and child development corportaion] for omissions and commission of wrongdoings, having lost at each forum, have now resorted to such low attempts to malign my reputation.”