New Bollywood film highlights the dangers behind a lack of toilets in India

You have to feel for women in many parts of rural India. Not only do they live in a culture where it is deemed acceptable to urinate and defecate outside, but predatory men, incredibly, take the opportunity to pounce and assault them when they are performing this most natural and basic of rituals.

Sushila, assaulted when she went outside to the fields near her home, sums it up. Men can simply get on a motorbike and drive off to find a quiet place to go to the toilet outdoors, but for women who feel unable to go too far from home, with households and children to get ready for school, simply feel forced to slip outside under cover of dark nearby, sometimes to a place where people pass by, where men jeer or do worse.

Saroj from a village in northern Indian was set upon when she was forced to go outside. Credit: ITV News

That so many incidents of assault and rape occur because women have no indoor toilets is both sickening and enraging. What is it that makes so many men think this is acceptable behaviour?

Akshay Kumar, the Bollywood superstar, says education is the answer, to start undoing years of appalling male attitudes. And he is putting his box office weight behind an answer to keeping women not only safe, but free from the indignity of having to defecate outdoors.

More toilets are being built across India, particularly in rural areas. Credit: ITV News

Toilet: Ek Premier Katha, is his attempt to put the conversation out into the public in a way only Bollywood, the world's most productive industry, can do.

The heroine in his film leaves her husband because he has no toilet in the house. It's a comedy with a heavy punchline.Half of India's population has no access to a lavatory. India is building toilets, but Mr Kumar is asking communities to join the initiative.

Incredibly even when the toilets are erected, there is a marked reluctance to use them, communities are so entrenched in the practice of answering a call of nature outside.

It is about keeping women safe from appalling attacks, but also hygiene, halting the spread of diseases, and for women, the hideous need to hold their bladders until the dark of sunset to give themselves more protection. It is shocking.

A scene from Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. Credit: ITV News

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is just a film, an all singing all dancing Bollywood production, but in India it is the cinema that binds all sectors of society, so it is better than any government initiative says Kumar.

Next up is the issue of sanitary towels. Kumar's wife, the actress Twinkle Khanna, has written a film about another shocking issue for Indian women, the lack of affordability of sanitary towels, affecting most of the female population. Bollywood wants to get people talking.