On Jan. 26, Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar walked 21 km (13 miles) on a treadmill during a live TV show because he said he wanted to understand the experience of being a women in an Indian village and having to travel long distances to fetch water. The stunt was not received well.
Data shows that on an average, rural women in India walk five to 20 km (3-12 miles) just to get water. Activists often warn that the burden of India’s water crisis falls most on women, which impacts their long term health and well-being. Women who walk vast distances to collect water are also more likely to drop out of school, according to a survey by the Gaon Connection. And according to a Britain-based charity, WaterAid, nearly 163 million of India’s total 1.3 billion lack access to clean water sources close to their homes. A recent report stated that Indian women spend 352 minutes a day on unpaid work, compared to just 52 minutes by men—a labour gap that is the highest in the world.
With this grim reality as a backdrop, Kumar’s stunt appeared a little too detached to make its intended statement.
Kumar was participating in an eight-hour television programme that aimed to raise awareness about the water crisis in India. It was an initiative from Indian news platform News 18, which was sponsored by global toilet cleaner brand Harpic India, for which Kumar is an ambassador.
The show saw appearances by prominent leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, such as Home Minister Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Musician AR Rahman and several other Bollywood actors also participated.
As guests on the show came in and talked about the human cost of the water crisis, Kumar was seen walking on the treadmill, an act that drew flak online.
This was not the only recent example of an Indian celebrity displaying a bewildering lack of taste. During the pandemic, several Bollywood celebrities were criticised for posting unrelatable “lockdown” content during the nationwide curfew that rendered millions of migrants jobless and homeless across the country. With these moments as a backdrop, it’s no surprise that Kumar’s 21-km treadmill walk to fetch an imaginary pitcher of water has been so poorly received.
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.