The most popular movie in India this summer is about a toilet. It nearly causes a divorce. It makes a father slap his adult son. It splits a village in half. But, ultimately, it’s about a romance.

More than just an ode to the commode, the film, “Toilet, a Love Story,” speaks to one of India’s most serious public health concerns. Toilets are a big issue in India these days: There aren’t enough of them for the country’s 1.3 billion people, and the national government is embarking on the biggest toilet-building campaign in the nation’s history.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, troubled by how many Indians still relieve themselves in the open, has vowed to build a staggering 100 million new toilets.

All across the country, new latrines are going up, sometimes so fast they are not connected to anything, creating toilets to nowhere that are so fly-ridden and stinky that almost no one will use them.

There’s even a new mobile phone app that tells people how to find the nearest toilet. “When nature calls,” billboards read, “use your phone!” It’s ridiculous, people have cell phones but no access to a toilet.

The lack of facilities is not just a matter of public health, as the movie makes clear, but also touches on issues of safety, women’s rights and human dignity.

According to Unicef, around 564 million Indians, nearly half the population, still defecate in the open — in fields, forests, next to ponds, along highway medians and on the beach.

Rural women sometimes endure taunts and even sexual assault when they relieve themselves outdoors, so they travel in small groups, often before dawn, for protection. “This is a real problem,” said Jagmati Sangwan, a women’s rights advocate. “So many women, especially landless women, face a lot of violence when they go to the bathroom outside.”

Is anybody really surprised that nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home? Not really. The India Human Development report has been saying this for a while. The situation is worse in the villages, where two-thirds of the homes don’t have toilets. Open defecation is rife, and remains a major impediment in achieving millennium development goals which include reducing by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation.

Is the lack of toilets and preference for open defecation a cultural issue in a society where the habit actually perpetuates social oppression, as proved by the reduced but continued existence of low caste human scavengers and sweepers?

India’s enduring shame is clearly rooted in cultural attitudes. More than half a century after Independence, many Indians continue to relieve themselves in the open and litter unhesitatingly, but keep their homes spotlessly clean. Yes, the state has failed to extend sanitation facilities, but people must also take the blame.

In the upstart suburb of Gurgaon, educated, upwardly mobile, rich neighbours sent their pet dogs outside with their servants to defecate and refuse to clean up the mess. As long as their condominium is clean, it is all right. These are the same people who believe that the government is at the root of all evil.

The lack of toilets also negatively impacts tourism, when tourists travel through the country, they cannot find any available toilets or the toilets are in a bad condition leaving a bad experience and negative publicity.

We should study toilet systems, construction of toilets, hygiene and cleaning of toilets in other countries to learn how it is done. The progress of the country will be impeded fi we ignore the toilet and sewage issue.

Another big unseen problem is toilet facilities for tourists, take any city, town or tourist attraction and it is and a nightmare to find a toilet and more so a clean hygienic facility, so most tourists have to partake in bladder control until they return to a hotel.

*** when constructing a new building, plan to separate the toilet and bathroom for cleanliness, hygienic reasons and not soiling after bath (as per Vastu best practices).