Beware! Your head could be the next spittoon……..
As the flight landed, my heart heaved a sigh. Finally here I was, going to enjoy the pristine beauty of ‘God’s own Country’, that would be mine to savor for years to come. Putting a halt to those mini school vacations which never gave me enough time to drink in the glory of Trivandrum, my home town. A horde of relatives waited to greet us with kisses and hugs, throwing my specs haywire. Fumbling with my specs and getting my sight right, I squeezed into the ambassador that would take us home. The days of the ushering week had been planned and even the school I would join was planned and booked.
And thus began my rendezvous with the glorified KSRTCs. Being educated unto the primary standard in Malayalam, I fumbled with the script atop the forehead of buses and before I could manage to read half the script, the bus fled past me bulging in its seams. Though I looked on in disdain, I knew sooner or later, I too had to master the art of hanging on.. And once the words, kizhakkekota, pattom. Medical college, had been learned to my great relief, it was with envious speed that I spotted my bus from a distance.
But my adventures were only beginning. On one tired day, as I dozed off in my seat, I felt a fray of water on my cheeks. I sat up bleary eyed, wondering why the monsoons had come so early, but was bemused by the clear sky and the blazing sun. Then! It happened again and I noticed the spray originating from the front seat. I was disgusted to note that it was the spit of the passenger in the seat before me. Luckily I had my specs on. What uncouth behavior, I thought to myself, but dared not think aloud.
In the days that followed, I noticed the roads lined by spit in various forms and colours. The bus stations had their walls smeared in red. It was with dignity and a great sense of ‘Swaraj’ that auto drivers, travelers on foot and people in all walks of life dirtied the road. The ease with which they spat on the road, made me think for a moment, whether I was on a road or a glorified bathroom.
Evolution of the habit….
Apart from the mewling and puking in the nurses arms and spitting up their mother’s milk, new borns are new to the spitting habit of their ancestors. But as they grow up, children who are keen observers and imitators of adults easily acquire the habit of spitting on roads. This happens since there is no dearth of examples of the habit. Even if the family they are born into doesn’t have famed spitters, they are bound to acquire lessons from peers and folks around. Initially it is a matter of pride, to compete on how far the spit lands. The farther the fall, the greater the might of the person. As years pass, roads and walls become familiar hot spots for the dribbling mouths to vent their produce. Seldom do they think twice regarding their act or the ill effects in its wake. So engrained the habit becomes in their genes, that “offenders” who try to stop them or question them are looked down as miscreants and they fight for their rights…
Public health perspective…
In our country, diseases like TB are prevalent and have now assumed a threatening facelift with emergence of resistance forms of bacteria and co-existence with diseases like AIDS. Control of TB entails strict cough hygiene to be practiced by patients. But habitual spitters find it hard to restrain the urge and are seldom followed up in this regard. Hence, the spit seen on the roads is a rich culture media teeming with microbes seen and hitherto unseen. The smoking habit has seen a reduction of sorts following the implementation of COTPA Act. Yet the prevalence of pan chewing and use of other forms of smokeless tobacco are yet to see a decline. This is also evidenced by the red smeared walls of bus and railway stations.
Initiatives to stem spitting…
In states like Gujarat (Gandhigram), a practice by onlookers to thank the public spitters is an innovative approach to refrain them. The Maharashtra government has gone one step ahead by penalizing the culprits with fine and compulsory community service of varying duration depending on the frequency of offence.
Despite isolated attempts, there is a severe deficit of a concerted and unified action in this aspect. Unless the public is sensitized regarding the unhealthy attributes of the habit and its purely unaesthetic nature, the resistance to the act shall remain passive and watered down.
Kerala, God’s own country is a favourite haven for tourists. The least we can do to preserve its pristine beauty is stop littering and dirtying the roads and public places. Generating awareness among public is another important measure. School is the best place for inculcating healthy habits in children. Educating children against this deep rooted habit should begin from primary school and should form a part of basic continuing health education sessions.
Parents should be advised, counseled and coaxed into stopping the habit and to set a healthy example to kids. IEC activities can be carried out like circulation of pamphlets and poster and essay competitions at school and college levels. Involving health care workers and volunteers for a concerted action shall go a long way as the message they carry can be effectively blended with the disease prevention activities in place. Roping in support of media along with social networking sites can help in lasting repercussions that shall help stem the habit. Habitual offenders should be warned and penalized following repeated offense. The measures taken should also consider protection of human rights and should be of anassertive nature rather than an aggressive. Consistent efforts in this direction can help carve out a health conscious generation with added civic responsibility.