Can the habit of spitting anywhere in India ever go away?
At the beginning of this passing year, Raja and Preeti Narasimha started traveling all over India by road. But he didn’t just go out for a walk, he also had a goal. The goal… to spread an important message to every corner of the country.
With this message, ‘Stop spitting in public places’, he went out on the streets of India.
He had also kept a loudspeaker along for this message to reach the ears of more and more people. The car in which he had come out to give this message to India, that car was also covered with anti-spitting slogans (slogans written against spitting in public places).
If you have ever spent time in India or if you are a resident of India, then it will not take you long to understand how important this couple came out with..
Spit red walls and roads are very common in India. Sometimes the normal peak, sometimes the spitting peak after eating betel nut-gutka-betel, seems to enhance the beauty of the walls and buildings. But it is not just limited to walls and roads. The historic Howrah Bridge of Kolkata is also no exception to this.
It was only after seeing the condition of these red colored buildings, roads and walls that the couple decided to undertake this journey. So that people can be made aware.
Narasimha lives in Pune city. He has been working since 2010 to tackle this problem of spitting in public places. They are not associated with any organization, they are self-appointed warriors. They conduct workshops to create awareness, run online and offline campaigns, collaborate with the local municipality in the cleaning work.
Narasimha, referring to the habit of spitting in India, says that this problem is so big that once they painted the red wall at the Pune railway station so that the place was clearly visible, but after just three days people again Spit-spitting that wall and made it as before.
He says there is no reason to spit on the wall but then people don’t know why.
He says that he gets many types of reactions on his advice. Some people remain indifferent to his advice and some people even get annoyed at times.
King Narasimha says about a man that once a man was so angry that he told me, “What is your problem? Is this your father’s road?”
Preeti Narasimha says, “Although the wave of corona epidemic in India has changed a lot of things. Those who used to spit on the streets and in public places, some of them have even apologized.”
He says, “The fear of the pandemic has made people think.”
- ‘A spitting country’
Campaigns and efforts against spitting on the streets have taken place many times in India, but they have always been lacking in something or the other. The city of Mumbai has tried to stop it by taking the strictest steps in this direction. He asked people to come forward and volunteer and appointed ‘nuisance-inspectors’. These inspectors convince people not to spit, not to throw garbage and not to urinate on the road or in public places and stop those who do so.
But one cannot turn away from the fact that the crime of spitting in public places has been ignored for a long time.
- The covid pandemic has changed a lot
Last year, when the epidemic knocked in India and it has been said that the corona is airborne, then the habit of spitting everywhere in the Indians was threatened. All kinds of rules were made under the Disaster Management Act and the authorities made provision for strict action against those who spit in public places, fines were imposed and it was made a rule to go to jail for spitting.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself said in his address to the countrymen that they should keep public places clean and do not spit here and there. He also said that this is not something about which we were not already aware. “We always knew that was wrong.”
This was in complete contrast to a statement made by the Health Minister in the year 2016. When the then Health Minister, while answering a question related to the habit of spitting, told Parliament, “Sir, India is a spitting country. When we are bored, we spit, when we are tired we spit We spit when we are angry and we spit even when nothing is happening. We spit wherever and we spit all the time even from time to time.
His answer was absolutely correct.
Spitting on the roads of India is very common. Men having fun on the roadside or walking on the road, in a very normal and careless manner, tilt their heads a few inches down and spit the contents of the mouth, including saliva, into the road with a jerk. Car drivers, bicyclists, auto rickshaw drivers and most of the people who drive every vehicle that moves on the road behave like this and the strangest thing is that they do not have the slightest hesitation while doing so.
Well before spitting, he clears his throat and that too with the sound of crackling, as if inviting to spit that come sir, now it’s time to drop you on your last destination.
Many consider it to be manly behavior as well.
Columnist Santosh Desai believes that Indian men are very comfortable with their bodies and the spit they spit out from their mouths without any discomfort or hesitation.
“Spit is also a form of “swag” that promotes toxic masculinity,” says Uddalak Mukherjee, associate editor of the Indian newspaper The Telegraph.
- But why spit in public places?
Narasimha says that there can be many reasons behind what he feels, from anger to time-pass. Because they do not have anything special to do many times, even then put something like betel nut-gutka-betel in the mouth, chewed and spit. Apart from this, one reason could also be that “they feel that it is their right to spit.”
According to historian Mukul Kesavan, According to the historian Mukul Kesavan, it also stems from “an Indian obsession with pollution and how to void yourself of it”.
Some historians also believe that this obsession can be traced to the belief prevalent among Hindus and especially among the upper caste people that whatever is dirty has to be discarded outside and entered the house.
According to Mukherjee, “the habit of spitting is more than just cleanliness.”
He tells that once a taxi driver had given the reason behind this and said that he had a bad day and he did not want to keep the bad experience of that day in his mind, so he spit.
- campaign against spitting
It turns out that there was a time when people from everywhere used to spit everywhere. In India, spitting was done in the royal courts and in many houses also there was a practice of Peak donation or spittoon.
In Europe in the Middle Ages, you could spit during a meal but only as long as it remained under the table.
Erasmus writes that it was considered rude and uncivilized to re-draw one’s saliva.
In the year 1903, the British Medical Journal placed America in the list of countries in the world where the most spitting occurs. (In 1903, the British Medical Journal labeled America one of the “expectorative storm centers of the world”).
A Massachusetts health inspector asked in 1908 why the tailors in each of the factories he inspected were spitting on the floor, he replied, “Of course they spit on the floor, so do you? Expect them to spit in their pockets?”
But it is not as if things were in their splendid form in Britain.
It was common to spit in tram cars there too. However, there was a provision of fine for this and the health community was constantly demanding to bring a law against it.
- But how did this habit begin to improve?
This was the time when the outbreak of TB was increasing and this became the reason due to which this habit got a setback in western countries. Vidya Krishnan, author and journalist of the forthcoming book Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History, says that increased public awareness of germ theory from the late 19th century to the early 20th century played an important role in this regard.
“Awareness of how germs spread and their associated led to new social habits. People adopted habits such as placing a hand or handkerchief over their mouth before sneezing, waving instead of shaking hands, and common practices such as not kissing children. Made things a habit. Habits regarding cleanliness which were once confined to the house were adopted in public places as well.
Vidya Krishnan says that this awareness increased behavior change in men. Because at that time and even today, people who spit in public were caused by the spread of many types of germs and even today such people are the spreaders of germs of many infectious diseases.
- What are the challenges in India
But the problem in India is not only that. There are many challenges here.
Vidya Krishnan says that the states of India have never tried their level best to end this bad habit and spitting in public is still acceptable here.
Narasimha laments the paucity of modern spittoons.
He says, “Suppose even if I want to spit, where should I spit?”
Recalling his childhood days, he says, “I remember during my childhood, Kolkata used to have lampposts filled with sand for spitting, which are no longer visible and people also used to spit where their hearts did. Huh.”
But this is not the only challenge. There are many other big challenges in the way of its end.
Vidya Krishnan says, “Whether it is large-scale behavior change or public health interventions, we cannot ignore caste, class and gender.”
She says, “In India, having a bathroom, getting water in the tap and having a proper drainage system is a big deal.”
Health experts believe that this war cannot be won by punishing those who spit in public until we understand why they spit. Until the cause is not known, this battle cannot be won.
However, Raja and Preeti are adamant about their mission.
Raja Narasimha says, “Some people may think that we are wasting time but we will keep trying. If we can change the thinking of even two percent of the people, then it will be a big success.”