- Aparna Alluri
- BBC reporter, from Delhi
Earlier this year, Raja and Priti Narasimhan embarked on a road trip across India, wanting to spread a message: stop spitting in public places. The couple carried a loudspeaker to spread their message, and there were slogans against spitting outside the car.
If you have lived in India, you know what the Narasimhans are facing. This is a place full of saliva on the street. Sometimes it is clear or thick phlegm, sometimes it is bloody, mixed with chewing tobacco, betel nut or panan, on ordinary walls and magnificent buildings, even on the historic Howrah Bridge in Kolkata, There are traces of it.
So Narasimhan and his wife traveled the country, trying to protect public places such as streets, buildings and bridges from this disturbance. They live in Pune and have proclaimed themselves city guards since 2010, declaring war on spitting. On one occasion, Mr. Narasimhan said that they used paint to cover the traces of the spit of pan’an eaters at the train station in Pune City, and some people spit out new sputum there in less than three days.
“There is no reason to spit on the wall!” he said.
For their admonition, people have always responded with disregard or anger. Narasimhan recalled that a man once asked him: “What’s wrong with you? Is this your dad’s property?”
However, Mrs. Narasimhan said that the Covid-19 epidemic has swept across India and has changed some things. Some spitters will even apologize.
“The fear of the global pandemic has caused them to reflect,” she said.
“The Land of Spitting”
India’s fight against spitting has always been lack of determination. The city of Mumbai has taken the most measures. There are voluntary “nasty” inspectors to scold people not to spit, litter and urinate in public places. But spitting has been largely ignored for a long time.
Then the new crown epidemic came, and the risk of the air was added to the habit of Indian men to spit everywhere. Officials began to take action, and under the Disaster Management Act (Disaster Management Act), heavier fines and even imprisonment were imposed on spitters. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Narendra Modi) advised his people not to spit in public places-saying this is “we always knew it was wrong.”
This is in sharp contrast to 2016. In response to the question about the dangers of spitting, the then Minister of Health stated to Congress: “Sir, India is a country of spitting. We spit when we are bored, spit when we are tired, and spit when we are angry. , Or in short, just like that, we vomit when nothing happens, we vomit everywhere, we vomit at any time, and when we are free, we vomit.”
He was right. In the streets of India, people are accustomed to spitting: men resting on the road, turning their heads around, and then just a mouthful; men driving cars, riding bicycles or electric rickshaws, stick their heads out in front of traffic lights and spit. Phlegm has never hesitated. This action often has an early warning-they will make a unique guttural sound when they prepare to spit out such an offensive sputum.
Among those with this habit, men account for the absolute majority. Columnist Santosh Desai said that Indian men are very casual with their bodies, “as is for everything that comes out of the body.”
“There is an almost selfless laissez-faire about releasing myself in public places,” he said. “If I feel uncomfortable, I will do something immediately. The idea of restraining myself is basically non-existent.”
Uddalak Mukherjee, deputy editor-in-chief of the Indian “Telegraph”, said that spitting is also a form of “showing handsome” to satisfy the consciousness of poisonous men.
But why spit in public places?
Narasimhan said that the reasons he found ranged from anger to “killing time” and so on (they had nothing else to do), or simply because they could do that—”they feel they have the right to vomit. Phlegm,”he said.
According to the historian Mukul Kesavan (Mukul Kesavan), this also comes from “Indians’ obsession with pollution and how to get rid of it.”
Some historians believe that this obsession may be traced back to the idea of Hinduism and the caste system to keep the body pure by excluding all dirt from the home.
“The concept of spitting has sublimated the problem of hygiene,” Mukherji said. “One time a taxi driver told me, “I had a bad day and I want to spit out this experience.”
War on spit
It turns out that there was a time when people everywhere spit. In India, spitting was once praised in the court, and the large spittoon is an important display in many families.
In medieval Europe, you can spit in the middle of a meal, as long as you spit under the table. Erasmus once wrote that “sucking the saliva back” is “impolite”. In 1903, the British Medical Journal listed the United States as one of the “World Sputum Storm Centers.” In 1908, a health inspector in Massachusetts asked why in every factory he went to, tailors would spit on the ground. He said the answer he got was: “Of course they have to spit on the ground; otherwise you think they have to spit. Where? Are you vomiting in your pocket?”
The situation in Britain was not much better at the time. Spitting on trams is so common that people have to be fined for it, and the medical profession requires legislation to prohibit this behavior.
In the West, it was the spread of tuberculosis that finally ended this habit of people. Vidya Krishnan, author and reporter of the forthcoming book Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History The awareness of this aspect has played a decisive role in this.
“Awareness of how bacteria spread has brought out new social habits and customs. People learned to cover their mouths and noses when sneezing and coughing, refused to shake hands, and kissing babies began to be disapproved. The country’s awareness of hygiene has also radiated. To be abroad.”
Krishnan said that increased awareness has led to “behavioural changes” in men because they were and are still “people who spit in public places freely, leading to the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis.”
However, Krishnan said that India has many obstacles to overcome. Indian states have never made great efforts to get people to get rid of this habit. And spitting is still a behavior accepted by society-whether it is chewing tobacco, athletes spitting to the camera, or Bollywood movies depicting men spitting each other during a fight, etc.
Narasimhan lamented that spittoons are rarely used now. “Even when I have to spit, where do I spit?” he said, “As a kid who grew up in Kolkata, I remember there used to be a spittoon with sand on a telephone pole. This thing disappeared. So people threw up everywhere.”
There are other bigger challenges. “Any large-scale behavior change or public health intervention measures cannot rule out caste system, hierarchy and gender factors,” Krishnan said. “In India, going to the bathroom, using tap water and good plumbing, etc. It’s a privilege.”
Health experts warn that this war cannot be won by punishing people without trying to understand why they spit. The global pandemic of the new crown epidemic lasted for two years, and the enthusiasm for giving up this bad habit is fading. However, Raja and Priti did not give up on confronting this behavior on the street. They say that most people still don’t realize that this may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19-and even if they can’t solve this, it can at least bring about a little change.
“It doesn’t matter if we waste time, we will still try,” Mr. Narasimhan said. “If we can change the attitude of even 2% of people, that would be a contribution.”