How Twinkle Khanna's tweets against open defecation turned into Toilet: Ek Privilege Ki Katha
Let's be honest, we've all had the same thought as Twinkle Khanna. But to assign the blame of open defecation on the people who are forced to relieve themselves in the open is to assume that they have a choice.
Twinkle Khanna woke up one morning to take a jog by the beach. She spotted a man relieving himself by the shore, which she says made #HerWalkGoDownTheToilet, so she put up a picture of the sight she saw on Instagram. This happened merely days after her husband Akshay Kumar's film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha released, and the columnist-cum-former-actress found 'sardonic' humour in the matter.
Some people on social media laughed with her, but many trolled her for assuming that her husband's film would magically make the problem of open defecation go away overnight. Critics also pointed out that her remark was high-handed and came from a position of privilege. She obviously has a bathroom in her house and has probably never had to relieve herself in the open, so how could she understand that man's plight?
But let us not saddle her with the weight of the silver spoon she was born with and the fancy tub she probably bathes in. Upper middle class folk such as I, who don't have a bathtub in their houses, are also spectators to open defecation each morning. When we're sitting comfortably in our first class seats in the local train, we see people relieve themselves on the train tracks. When we're on the highway passing slums in our air-conditioned cabs, we see people defecating outside their houses.
Of course, we don't consider it a pretty sight, and it would be hypocritical to say that we've not had the same thought as Khanna. We're not going to be the thought police and hold her guilty for being repulsed. What you can do differently in this situation is to understand why people are forced to expose themselves in this embarrassing manner day in, day out instead of simply cribbing.
She captioned the picture so: "I guess here is the first scene of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha part 2", and perhaps the makers of the film should take her words seriously. The reasons why people defecate in the open in urban and rural India vary to a certain extent. In villages, the reasons range from the 'filthy' and 'dirty' labels given to the act of defecation which people do not want in their houses, to the connotation of caste associated with cleaning up human faecal waste, and even the sheer lack of public toilets.
An article by Arre delves into the dynamics behind why people choose corners of what are considered public spaces, as restrooms in cities. Metropolitan cities are brimming with people, so it comes as no surprise that the lines outside public restrooms are serpentine. A lot of times, they aren't clean, or worse, even functional. The people who are forced to opt for this way of relieving themselves have small houses where there are more people residing per square feet than there should be. To build a toilet in this matchbox-sized house is considered a waste of space. In such a situation, can you really blame the man for choosing the beach rather than a dysfunctional public loo where he would have to spend half an hour in line?
In a later tweet, she pointed out that the people who defecate in the open can afford to buy alcohol but can't pay a measly amount at a public restroom or buy a cup of tea at a restaurant and use the loo inside it. Fair point, Mrs Funnybones, but this reveals more about your lack of understanding about how class functions in a city where a bottle of alcohol is more easily accessible than a toilet. Also, how is buying a cup of tea in a restaurant and using its restroom a solution? In all likelihood, people who defecate in the open do not have the money to visit restaurants which have a toilet. It is impractical in terms of time and money.
Twinkle Khanna was also called out by people on social media for photographing the man without his permission and in a compromising position in the midst of an act which is private. He was exposed and vulnerable.
Switch the gender of the person and change the backdrop of the picture from a beach in the city to the outskirts of a village, and you've re-created a scene from Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (as well as the everyday lives of scores of women in India). Simply put, if a man had shared such a picture of a woman, he would have been called several names: a stalker, a harasser, a violater of privacy, and a pervert.
Of noteworthy mention at this point is a particular article by Khanna about how she got followed by three men on a beach when she went jogging. She wrote about how she, instead of running away from the men, chased them and was successful in driving them away. We're very aware that jogging on the beach is legal and socially acceptable, and defecating is not. But one would imagine that as a victim of harassment in a similar public space, she would know why what she was doing was wrong.
Twinkle Khanna did get one thing right though; Mumbai is far from being open defecation-free. But to blame the people who defecate in the open is to assume that they have a choice. No one wants to defecate in the open. It is not their cross to bear; the fault lies with the city's infrastructure, public officials and the lack of adequate policing in public spaces.
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