This April Fool’s day, Ola’s becoming the butt of its own joke.
On March 29, the Indian cab aggregator launched an online campaign for “Ola Restrooms”—toilets on-the-go that can be booked via its app. Twitterati immediately caught onto the fact that this was an April Fool’s day prank by the Bengaluru-based company.
Ola has played April Fool’s day pranks for several years now. In 2018, it had announced Ola News Network, and in 2017, it had introduced Wheels—a Rs49 ($0.71) commute from your room to your kitchen.
However, this year’s prank did not go down too well.
Noopur Raval, a PhD candidate in Informatics at University of California Irvine who tweets under the handle @tetisheri, pointed out that it was a cruel joke to play in India. The country has the biggest open defecation problem in the world and a severe dearth of public toilets. Cab-hailing drivers don’t even get proper loo breaks.
The campaign to privatise toilets also ignores poor working conditions and low pay at the company, over which its drivers have time and again agitated, Raval pointed out. Many of them are burdened with car loans they cannot afford to repay and live hand-to-mouth.
Another Twitter user—poet Harnidh Kaur criticised the ad for showing some women, desperately waiting to use the toilet, being able to summon one at the click of a button. In real life, girls and women are the worst-hit by the country’s sanitation crisis.
Those who can’t access toilets often find themselves at the risk of assault. And when the facilities are available, women are often perturbed by the lack of basics such as menstrual hygiene facilities, soap and water, and even by men lurking near the bathrooms. So, the on-demand Ola toilet is too much of an unattainable dream that stings.
Many others said Ola could make better use of its money rather than spend it on such marketing gimmicks.
Just a few minutes ago, Ola launched an initiative to build sustainable sanitation in India by collecting donations through its app for Gramalaya, an organisation dedicated to providing better water and sanitary facilities in rural areas. “Over the next six months, you can contribute Rs 1 towards this cause, with every Ola ride,” it said in a blogpost.