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Movie ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ is an Effort by Bollywood Filmmakers to End Problem of Open Defecation

Toilet, a Love Story is the tale of a bicycle shop owner’s struggle to build a toilet for his wife, who abandons him because she refuses to go into the fields like other women in the village

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Toilet: Ek Prem Katha
The Bollywood film, "Toilet: A love story" hopes to trigger change in sanitation habits in a country where open defecation in villages is common and considered healthy by many. VOA
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  • Bollywood film turns the spotlight on open defecation in the country
  • The theme has resonance in a country where half the 1.3 billion people defecate in the open
  • The film highlights how women, faces covered, venture into fields before sunrise under cover of darkness

New Delhi, Aug 24, 2017: India’s glitzy Bollywood movies and toilets have little in common, but they came together in a recent film that turns the spotlight on one of the most unglamorous challenges the country is tackling — open defecation.

Starring a top hero, Akshay Kumar, Toilet, a Love Story is the tale of a bicycle shop owner’s struggle to build a toilet for his wife, who abandons him because she refuses to go into the fields like other women in the village.

It is inspired by the true story of a woman in central India who walked out on her husband because there was no toilet in the house.

The theme has resonance in a country where half the 1.3 billion people defecate in the open, exposing them, particularly women and children, to diseases.

Indian schoolchildren participate in a rally to mark World Toilet Day in Hyderabad, India, Nov.19, 2014. India is considered to have the world’s worst sanitation record despite spending some $3 billion since 1986 on sanitation programs, according to government figures. VOA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is racing to build millions of toilets to meet its pledge to end open defecation by 2019. But as it turns out, the problem is not just about access to latrines, but changing behavior in a society where many people consider this a healthy practice.

Resistance to latrines

“People associate it with Ayurveda (a traditional system of medicine and health), you get a morning walk, you get fresh air, all kinds of reasoning which they come up with,” said Nikhil Srivastav, research director at the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics in New Delhi.

Campaigners point out that statistics on the latrines constructed in thousands of villages are meaningless because barely half are being used.

Starring one of India's box office heroes, Akshay Kumar, the film tells the story of a bicycle shop owner's efforts to overcome his father's resistance to building a toilet in the house after his wife walks out on him because she refuses to go into the fields to defecate.
Starring one of India’s box office heroes, Akshay Kumar, the film tells the story of a bicycle shop owner’s efforts to overcome his father’s resistance to building a toilet in the house after his wife walks out on him because she refuses to go into the fields to defecate. VOA

The widespread cultural resistance to latrine use in rural India is also born out of beliefs that pit latrines are impure and polluting, and that you cannot have a toilet under the same roof as the kitchen.

Bollywood’s influence

The film addresses some of those problems as the protagonist meets with powerful opposition when he constructs a toilet in the house because his infuriated father, an upper caste Hindu, believes it violates age-old tradition.

Can the film help by sparking a conversation around sanitation, especially in rural India? Bollywood after all is one of the country’s major influencers.

Also Read: UN Gives a Thumbs-Up to Movie ‘Toilet-Ek Prem Katha’, Appreciates Stars for Addressing Health And Pollution Issue Through Film

“The fact that someone is willing to put their money and make a movie about it, I say great. If it is going to trigger off 50,000 people, who started to think differently about the issue, it has value,” said V.K Madhavan, who heads WaterAid India.

The issue is emerging as an important one: Last week a woman in Rajasthan state was granted a divorce after judges ruled that her husband’s failure to build a toilet at home amounted to “physical cruelty” as she had to wait until dusk before going into the fields.

The film highlights how women, faces covered, venture into fields before sunrise under cover of darkness.

Caste system and old habits

Another stumbling block in the campaign to popularize toilets is India’s centuries-old caste system, in which only lower castes are supposed to clean toilets. Many villagers are rejecting the basic latrines being built because the pits would have to be emptied manually once every few years, a task the aspirational lower castes are no longer willing to do and which others also shun.

“So often these latrines get taken away, broken down, used for storing cow dung cakes or other things,” Srivastav said.

An Indian woman walks in a field after relieving herself in the open, on World Toilet Day on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Nov. 19, 2014. Some villages have public bathrooms, but many women avoid using them because they are usually in disrepair and men hang around and harass women. VOA

Toilet Anthem, released by filmmakers to promote the cause of sanitation, underlines the paradox of a country where vast progress in areas such as space and technology and an aspirational middle class stand in stark contrast with deeply rooted traditional beliefs across thousands of villages.

“While mankind has progressed far enough to journey to Mars and scale Mount Everest, 54 percent of India defecates in the open,” goes the anthem.

Sanitation experts however stress that the battle will have to be won softly and warn that some cases of zealous officials coercing people to use newly constructed latrines to meet India’s target of ending open defecation may be counterproductive.

“If you have to deal with [the] cultural nuances around it, deal with old habits, you need to get feet on the ground to be able to talk to people, convince them gradually over a period of time. It does not happen overnight,” Madhavan said.

Prime Minister Modi has praised the film as a “good effort to further the message of cleanliness.”

Whether it will actually have any impact remains to be seen, but campaigners are digging their heels in for a drawn-out effort. (VOA)

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India’s #MeToo Movement Makes The Most Glamorous Industry Its Subject Of Scrutiny

While India has been under the spotlight for sexual violence against women, sexual harassment at the workplace has seldom been under scrutiny.

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#MeToo
ollywood actress Tanushree Datta presents a creation by designer Sanjeet Anand at the Bangalore Fashion Week in Bangalore, India. VOA

India is in the midst of its #MeToo moment as leading figures from the country’s entertainment and media industries face a volley of accusations of sexual misconduct from growing numbers of women.

The firestorm has had a powerful impact. In recent days two leading editors have stepped down, a Bollywood production house has been shuttered, India’s top comedy troupe faces an uncertain future and a popular author has apologized.

#MeToo
India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar (front) arrives in Venezuela’s Caribbean island of Margarita for the 17th Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. VOA

The allegations have also touched the government. India’s junior foreign minister, M.J. Akbar, is among those named by several women journalists for alleged misconduct during his previous tenure as a leading journalist and editor. He has not yet responded to the allegations and foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, did not comment either.

The trigger for India’s #MeToo campaign came from Bollywood actress Tanushree Datta who last month filed a police complaint in a 10-year-old case alleging that a leading actor, Nana Patekar, behaved inappropriately during a film shoot. He has denied the accusations and sent her a legal notice.

Soon after, a female comedian, Mahima Kukreja, accused a former member of comedy group All India Bakchod, Utsav Chakraborty, of sending her lewd messages and photos. Following similar accusations by other women, Chakraborty apologized on Twitter saying, “It’s a little too late, but I am sorry.”

The two allegations appeared to have touched a nerve among many women in media. During the past few days, there has been an outpouring on social media from scores of women journalists sharing their experiences of inappropriate behavior, ranging from suggestive messages to unsolicited advances with #MeToo.

#MeToo
Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018 in Washington. VOA

The Network of Women in Media group called it a “watershed moment for all of us in journalism,” and said it encouraged more women to “document their accounts without fear or inhibitions.”

In the glitzy Bollywood industry, producer and writer Vinta Nanda, accused actor Alok Nath of sexually abusing her almost 20 years ago on a Facebook post. Nath has told a news agency, “It must have happened, but someone else would have done it.”

Nanda told reporters the movement taking place is “very encouraging, very enabling and this is the reason why I have brought it up.”

Lawyer Vrinda Grover who has helped draft India’s laws on sexual abuse and harassment, said that enabled by technology and social media, women had spoken out because in a new environment, “They will not be immediately blamed as in the past.” On the other hand, it is bringing consequences for harassers.

A high profile movie company, Phantom Films, was dissolved after HuffPost India published an investigation alleging that one of the founders, Vikas Bahl, had assaulted a female employee after a party in 2015. The other partners apologized for mishandling her complaint.

#MeToo
Queen” star Kangana Ranaut hasn’t been far behind in calling out Bahl,

A popular author, Chetan Bhagat, issued an apology after a woman uploaded a screen shot of a text in which the married writer said he wanted to “woo” her.

The editor of a leading newspaper, Times of India, K.R. Sreenivas, has been sent on leave pending an investigation after several women accused him of making sexual propositions. The political editor of another popular daily, the Hindustan Times, Prashant Jha, stepped down after a former colleague accused him of harassing her.

Amid a global movement to hold powerful men accountable for sexual misconduct, Indian women have picked up courage, said journalist Rituparna Chatterjee. “The floodgates to women’s anger have been opened.”

Some women said they were inspired by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, the university researcher in the United States, who accused, without evidence, U.S. supreme court judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. He is now a Supreme Court justice.

#MeToo
The hushed whispers are getting louder. Flickr

This is not the first time when efforts have been made to bring the #MeToo movement to India, but in the past it has quickly faded away. Last year for example, a crowd-sourced list of academics accused of harassment got little attention.

Also Read: Nana Patekar Denies Accusations of Sexual Harrassment

But lawyer Vrinda Grover calls the ongoing spontaneous campaign a “significant moment” in the effort to address workplace harassment. But she points out that the women who have spoken out largely represent the educated, urban elite and says it will be much harder for those working on shop floors, on construction sites and as household maids to bring attention to their stories.

While India has been under the spotlight for sexual violence against women, sexual harassment at the workplace has seldom been under scrutiny. (VOA)

One response to “India’s #MeToo Movement Makes The Most Glamorous Industry Its Subject Of Scrutiny”

  1. Although this exposure applies only to the famous men, it surely will open eyes of less successful men involved in this kind on action. But just like men many women employees are also lazy/useless/inefficient etc. So punishing those women employees could be tricky for bosses because they can claim punishment for their refusal for bosses’ advances.