The scarcity of resources in parts of India has long forced people to go out of their way to secure water for their families. Walking long distances to find a tap, sharing one handpump with the whole village, and fighting tooth and nail to keep hydrated is the grim reality for many. Sadly, this parched lot usually falls upon the women in the family.
Many women have to walk hundreds of kilometers to find water sources. Not only do they have to vie with other ladies to get enough water, but they also have to tote unimaginable weights back home in miscellaneous containers!
Mission Paani (by Network18 and Harpic India) is an initiative to mobilise a mass movement for the promotion of water conservation and hygiene. The initiative brings together influencers, water warriors, volunteers, and famous people together to spread the message of water conservation.
Akshay Kumar, a celebrity on Mission Paani’s ‘Waterthon,’ also tried to sensitise people about the importance of water. He tried to talk about the lives of women in rural India who have to walk miles to recover water for their families.
However, sadly, Akshay Kumar’s publicity stunt for the ‘Waterthon’ fell a little short of empathy.
The Bollywood celebrity walked 21 kilometers on a treadmill to emulate the struggles of women who carry the weight of their households on their shoulders. However, he did it without bearing the brunt of patriarchal expectations. Without raw feet and torn soles from walking barefoot, and without carrying the weight of water (and societal expectations) on his shoulders.
Can walking on a treadmill, often out of the scorching sun and in the comfort of your home, help understand the pain of women in rural India? These women have to walk hundreds of kilometers to find water and then lug the weight back home.
Therefore unsurprisingly, Akshay Kumar’s stunt was very swiftly and tauntingly called out by people on Twitter for its hollow sentimentality. With taunts and jeers, netizens demonstrated to Akshay that privilege comes in many shapes, and a treadmill might just be one of them!
In the end, it was not the idea of raising visibility for the women in rural areas that brought on the collective ire of the internet. It was the execution of the stunt. Capitalising on other’s pain is never the correct way to raise awareness.
A good cause is only as good as the way it expresses itself.
Akshay Kumar’s privileged pantomime left people with a bad taste in their mouths. However, mockery and trolling in themselves are a sign of necessary change.
Celebrities and influencers should not stop trying to work for causes. But it is time that they thought a little harder about the way they approach issues. PR for your own self is not reason enough to sensationalise the real lives of underprivileged people.
The time to be tone deaf is long gone!
With great power comes great responsibility, and Akshay Kumar has been blessed with fame, fortune, and fan following. These are enough to make a mark in the world.
And all we ask for is a little empathy, sensitivity, and respect.
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