Editor’s Note: Need for an anti-spitting Abhiyan
Following its elevation to power in 2014 the BJP-controlled central government launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Mission) throughout the country to revolutionize the defecation and sanitation habits of the millions, who live in rural and urban areas. The Prime Minister of India launched the programme on 2nd October 2014, the birth day of Mahatma Gandhi, using the Father of the Nation’s glasses as the icon. The Indian States have followed the central government initiative, although under different names, and implemented the programme as their own project. A recent report on the website of the Deparment of Drinking Water and Sanitation under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, claims that all the States and UTs of India have already achieved 70-100 per cent of the target in the mission (https://sbm.gov.in/sbmReport/home.aspx accessed on 08.08.2021 at 9AM). Millions of rupees have already been pumped into the project, which undeniably has a mass appeal and, therefore, a vote appeal. This is one of the many essential yet populist policies that the neoliberal State has embarked upon to hide the negative impacts of the system on the masses, especially the poor. If successful, this will go a long way to revolutionize the sanitation habit of the people in India. The provision of sanitary toilets to the people, however, does not solve the problem automatically; the real issue is to sustain the campaign and bring about habitual transformation of permanent nature, hence a cultural transformation.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan takes the traditional India to cross-roads, putting millions in a dilemma on whether really to cross the road and accept modernity and science in hygiene. To be successful the programme requires (1) a massive adjuvant infrastructure support, especially provision for running water, (2) a transfer of knowledge of maintenance of such toilets, (3) a massive paradigm or habitual shift, and (4) engaging people actively in the campaign. Making provision for running water in houses in the remote villages and making people change their age-old perceptions and practices are the most challenging of all tasks and without which the multi-millionrupee project is bound to fall through.
It is not the sanitation only that will make Bharat swach. We need to work on some other areas like (1) safe drinking water for all, (2) hand and body hygiene, (3) food hygiene, (4) habit of wearing clean clothes, (5) complete eradication of the habit of spitting in the public space, (6) cleanliness of the home premises and the public places and so on.
Of all these, spitting in public places is the ugliest and dirtiest of all the bad habits, which is practised by people, irrespective of age, caste, gender, class or level of education. The people would spit in hospital rooms, corridors of institutional and official buildings, inside the lifts in stations, and even in airports wash room corners, on the roads and lanes in the market place, on college and university campuses. In other words, they are the merciless compulsive sputters, who do not care for others, neither in normal times, nor in the abnormal time of pandemic. For the non-sputters, who care for public hygiene and adhere to civic values it is an everyday existential problem; they confront it helplessly with a great deal of irritation while on morning-evening walk, on travel by public or hired transport, while marketing or visiting offices, banks, … everywhere.
For the compulsive sputters, spitting in public places does not create any civic or ethical crisis; they just do it habitually, completely shutting down their order of morality. Why is it so? The reasons could be (1) they have never received any lesson on public hygiene at any stage of their socialization, (2) a section of the sputters are addicts in gutkah, khaini, and jarda and pan, which gives them uncontainable sensation for spitting, and (3) a complete lack of care for others. This practice, reproduced socially, leaves a gushing effect on the general populace. The justification goes like “everybody is doing it, why not me”. There is no mechanism to check these “criminals”, who pollute public hygiene and public space. I think, with an anti-spitting programme in place, this bad habit can be checked in family, in elementary schools (and ICDS centers) and in public institutions and offices. I would suggest that a programme on public health and hygiene should be an integral part of the primary school curriculum everywhere in the country. The already adults, however, could rid themselves of this bad habit by attending a few orientation programmes, while picking up the habit of self questioning and self regulation and, if necessary, through institutional monitoring. This is one place where systemic surveillance would not carry a bad undertone.
Unfortunately, the administrators of the institutions and public space seem to be passable with this social evil; they do not use their imagination or power to check this irritating habit. I once proposed, in one of the faculty council meetings, to one of the (ex)Vice-Chancellors of our university that we must undertake a programme, making a set of rules with punitive measures and launching an awareness campaign, to check this menace on our beautiful campus. I offered my services to the campaign as well. But, neither the Vice-Chancellor nor any of my colleagues present at the meeting showed any interest in the proposal. This could be an indication that some of the social vices continue because there is certain degree of collective tolerance for them.
A new culture of hygiene based on science, however, involves peoples’ access to economic capital, level of cultural capital, discourses on aesthetics (or will to good life) they adhere to and a sense of care for others. For a socio-political-economic order, which promotes individualization (courtesy Ulrich Beck2 and Zygmunt Buman3) and moral pathology (Paulo Freiri1) and runs on pre-scientific beliefs while spreading cultural pollution through private vigilant gangs, it is almost impossible to enforce a culture of public hygiene based on science, modernity and the ethic of collective wellbeing.
Prof. Sanjay K. Roy Department of Sociology North Bengal University 9th August 2021