Waiting for my husband outside the ICICI bank in a Mumbai suburb, I caught 9 people spitting in a time span of 20 minutes. BEST bus commuters, auto rickshaw drivers, stall owners, women begging on the street, even white-collar professionals in smart button-down shirts and crisply pressed khakis. The malady has spared no-one. Nor is it confined to paan chewing only. On a normal day, travelling by public transport, if you were to observe people around you, they spit gutkha, paan and chewing gum, they gargle water, they dry-spit. The behaviour shows a complete lack of moral responsibility, extreme disrespect of one’s own city and nation and an overall abandonment of civic sense. In a country that aims to inculcate the teachings of ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ in students right from primary school, I have attempted time and again to understand the mentality which drives men and women to intentionally begrime their surroundings. No logic justifies this deplorable action.
Advanced nations like Singapore and the USA have very strict laws around spitting and littering. Singapore does not even market chewing gum, nor does it allow the import of chewing gum - even in minute quantities by tourists. While first time littering offenders are let off with a fine of $1000, repeat offenders in Singapore are made to wear bright jackets and clean up the area that they have littered. Occasionally, local media is invited to cover the event. Authorities believe that this dissuades litterbugs from tossing trash around. Singapore is now known to be one of the cleanest countries in Asia. Obviously something has clicked.
There is no question that effective measures have to be introduced and enforced to curb this menace. In a recent development, the Maharashtra state government has now banned the manufacture, storage, distribution and sale of gutkha and paan masala. While a gutkha ban already exists in four states – Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra will be the first to ban paan masala. Even though business on the side may continue to flourish in these states, for every legal sale now avoided, India is a much cleaner nation. It would be a citizen’s dream to see the ban extended to the rest of the nation. However enforcing laws to ban the spitting or ban products that incite the act is just one part of it. The other is individual mentality. Unless and until both go hand in hand, we cannot expect dramatic improvements.
Until such laws are passed, here’s an alternate proposal. I like to call it the Spit bag project. What if all paan shop vendors were to hand out paper carry bags with every paan or packet of gutkha that gets sold? Let’s take it a step further. How about all public transport operators carrying these bags as well? Autos, taxis, even buses. The same could also be made available at all bus stops, train stations and street shop establishments. The benefits would be multi-fold. Not just making the city cleaner, it could help with recycling paper by using old newspapers for the spit bags. Homeless kids could be employed to make these bags. Of course, currently, all of this is simply a fantasy. Plus, this would be a temporary solution and in no way would it stop the spread of harmful carcinogens in the system due to products like gutkha. But it would be a temporary respite, wouldn’t it? If dog owners in the USA can carry their dog’s crap in plastic packets until they get to a trash bin and dispose of it hygienically, couldn’t ‘spitters’ be asked to carry their own spit as well? As convinced as I am that the idea would be met with much resistance, most men balking at the suggestion, even if 20-30% of the spitting population decides to make use of these, it would make the nation a tad cleaner. After all, cleanliness, just like education needs to be a legacy that we can pass on to our kids, grandkids and generations to come.
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