Friday June 21, 2024

‘When you look at the toilets, you can see the city’

By Ebad Ahmed
January 04, 2016

Director of award-winning documentary explores sensitive dynamics of gender, caste and class in contemporary India


“When you look at the toilets, you can see the city.” This was the opening line of the “Q2P”, an International Film Festival of Los Angeles award-winning documentary, directed by Paromita Vohra, which touches the sensitive dynamics of gender, caste and class of contemporary India.

It enters and exits through the portal of the toilet; highlighting how the boundaries of public and private space keep shifting.

In the documentary-screening and conversation with the director held at the T2F on Sunday, Vohra said although many public toilets for women were constructed since the documentary was first screened in 2007, an attitudinal issue still existed in India.

“A considerable number of toilets have been constructed under the recently launched Swatch Bharat campaign but does it
take into account the local domestic rural needs?,”
she said.

“What about the cultural factor, where people don’t prefer having their kitchen near their washroom?”

Vohra argued that women must not be seen as unilateral entity while looking at the gender and public spaces discourse.

The outspoken director did not shy away from sharing her views on the questionable focal point of looking at the “women and public space” notion solely through middle-class women’s perspective.

“In the gender and space perspective, what we see is that the access of women to public spaces and their safety remains the prime issue,” he said.

“But the public space has always been occupied by women, through their presence at commercial spaces; it is the private space that matters.”

According to her when the statistics vindicated the fact that predominantly women belonging from working class suffered sexual violence at their private spaces through marital rapes, then why little attention was paid on that particular subject.

Like her words, Vohra’s documentary too came across as a project that came from the heart as she successfully managed to put her point across that the lack of public toilets for women was not merely an administrative issue of Mumbai, but in fact a multifaceted one that encompassed gender stereotypes, health and safety and economics.

The general societal perspective for which the issue is least important, as where the men consider it to be a less of an issue and middleclass women who are too embarrassed to speak on it and have tailored their lifestyle according to the situation, the State’s apathy in which it is not given importance in its infrastructural plans, the sanitary woes in municipal schools where parents tend to send their daughters due to free education and the caste stratification.

Indeed “when you look at the toilets, you can see the city” holds a grain of truth.