While the whole nation is suffering odds from the coronavirus pandemic, there are many reports on how people have been fined and arrested for spitting recently. And it is not just an India-specific phenomenon. From the US to Belgium, spit attacks are a real problem.
Even the Union Health Ministry had asked all states to prohibit the use and spitting of smokeless tobacco in public place.
In the UK, policemen are demanding deployment of ‘spit guards’ in public places after a few weeks ago, a railway worker in the United Kingdom Belly Mujinga died of coronavirus. But what is more tragic is how she contracted the virus. She was going about her duties when a man spat on her and said that he had coronavirus. A couple of days later, Mujinga started showing symptoms. Within the next forty-eight hours, she died.
Even the WHO has confirmed that the coronavirus can spread through droplets. Thus the droplets released in the air when a COVID-19 victim spits can lead to the spread of the pandemic when another person comes in contact with the infected droplets. This is also known as aerosol transmission of COVID-19.
But the real question is why do people continue to spit and can the pandemic teach people a lesson with the fact that people continue to spit despite imposing fines.
In India, the spit culture is common and acceptable. The stain of famous ‘banarasi paan’ can be witnessed on Railway stations, government buildings, public toilets, roads and even cinema halls. The paan consumers are not the only ones to be blamed for. The Indian obsession with spitting can be seen in many ways. We have seen mothers and grandmothers gently spitting or faking it on their children to keep them protected from ‘buri nazar’ (ill omen/evil eyes). On the streets, one can easily find youths and even adults who think spitting is not only their birth right, but is some sort of an achievement too.
Gargi Vishnoi, a counselling psychologist at Fortis Escorts Hospital, said people think that since a large number of people are doing it, the responsibility or the guilt doesn’t fall on one person. No one person is held accountable and the guilt is shared. That is why most Indians think it is okay to do so. She further said that the fear and stigma surrounding the disease could be prevent this disgusting act.
Impulsive? Violent? Vindictive? Incidents like these leave us wondering what could provoke an individual to take such drastic actions.
Dr. Anuradha Bhaduri, a doctor practicing in Kolkata, said “Social distancing and wearing of masks should be the new normal. Banning paan and gutka can be an option. Keeping a handkerchief or tissue handy should be encouraged. Awareness initiatives should be taken through all public forums.” Only then can the virus spreading through spitting be stopped. She further added that spitting should be considered a health hazard in general and not just specifically because of coronavirus.
Both Dr. Singh and Vishnoi are of the opinion that stricter measures should be imposed by the government to curb spitting. The World Health Organisation and the Indian government has issued several health advisories that seek to spread awareness about the dangers of coughing, sneezing and spitting in public; but that doesn’t seem to stop Indians from doing what they’ve been doing all their lives. It is time to acknowledge and realise that we should be done with all the spitting, literally and metaphorically. Coronavirus era could be a beginning for that.