Last Saturday, while I waited in a queue to get my daily essentials from a shop, the shop assistant made sure we stood within marked circles, maintained social distance, and wore masks and gloves. I thought, “This is needed. Way to go!” The next second, the owner of the shop came out, nodded at the customers, slid his mask down and spat on the road.
Atithi Devo Bhava. Isn’t it wonderful how we greet our guests in our country with pan stain artwork on the roads and walls?
With the coronavirus cases increasing rapidly by the day, the regulations with regard to personal and public hygiene are being strictly enforced across countries including India. It took a pandemic to make spitting in public places, a mess that we have been cleaning up for decades, to be classified as a punishable offence in many states.
Will the coronavirus pandemic put an end to this habit once and for all? Pune-based Raja Narasimhan, 56, and his wife Priti Raja, 52, sincerely hope so. The couple has been working on Spit Free India Campaign since 2010 under their organisation ‘Saare Jahaan Se Achcha’.
From organising workshops in schools to conducting skits in public places, the duo has been raising awareness among the citizenry regarding the harms of spitting in public spaces.
Working closely with the Pune Municipal Corporation, the duo has also collaborated with many colleges in Pune to paint walls to prevent spitting and convey the message at the same time. Till date, the organisation has held over 240 such awareness events.
“Inspired by our campaigns and drives, the Pune Municipal Corporation also implemented a fine of Rs. 150 in 2018 and even introduced city squads to get a hold of those found spitting,” informs Narasimhan.
So what pushed them to start their campaign against spitting?
“We first started the campaign in 2010 when we realised that the transmission of many airborne diseases like tuberculosis that spread through droplets could be reduced if we stopped this age-old habit of spitting in our country. People are unaware that this small action can lead to a chain of diseases, but now with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, citizens have become more receptive to instructions from the health department. So this would be the right time to stray away from the habit,” says Narasimhan in conversation with The Better India (TBI).
What Narasimhan says holds true says Bengaluru-based dentist, Dr Anpu Mary Rohit. “The problem with spitting, in particular, is that our saliva is one of the primary carriers of germs and diseases. So when you spit in public places, you’re spitting a pool of germs and exposing everyone to those germs and therefore transmitting diseases,” she tells TBI.
Narasimhan and his wife, both with an experience of working with MNCs and Banks launched Saare Jahaan Se Achcha to raise awareness about public hygiene via cleaning drives at public places like railway stations and parks.
“In 2018, we had over 170 management students join hands with us and create a human chain on the platforms of Pune railway station. This was instrumental in proving that the younger generations wished for a change of scenario as well,” explains Narasimhan.
For the socially-conscious couple, the motive is to “create a circle of goodness”.
“We don’t want to impose anything on the citizens, we’re just trying to make them understand the harmful effects of spitting,” he adds.
As a result of their incessant campaigning, the civic administration of Pune was also encouraged to provide spittoons in public spots where spitting was commonly seen.
What have the learnings been from the decade-long campaigns?
From the campaigns conducted over 10 years, Narasimhan has come to the conclusion that there are two major reasons behind the habit, one being the consumption of tobacco products and the need to spit it out and the other one being the myth that swallowing your own spit is bad for you.
“This is not a problem that only our country has faced, the US had to ban spitting when Tuberculosis started spreading and by the 1930s Europeans had also quit the habit when it was seen as a repulsive act by the elite,” he explains.
Since the past two years, the campaign has mostly been engaging with children as Narasimhan and his wife believe that it is easier to explain a concept to children than to adults. They have also encouraged school authorities to provide disposable pouches or tissues and inculcate a habit of spitting into them.
“As Indian citizens are being asked to strictly wear masks in the current crisis, I feel like this might become a breakthrough moment for our country and we just might be able to see a Spit free India in a few years,” he concludes.
The campaign now aims at spreading awareness to the southern states of India, focussing mainly at the age group of 15- 20.
You can reach out to Narasimhan at: email@example.com
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)