By Dr Firdaus Samad
While a few groups and individuals in Shillong work at promoting cleanliness and perhaps actually consider it next to godliness, the actions of a large chunk of people demonstrate that they don’t subscribe to this notion. Shillong ranks at the bottom of the cleanliness ranking in the country which is at 348th position. There are various reasons for this rank but I would like to highlight the obnoxious habit of spitting in public. Spitting in public may be perceived as a trivial issue by many, but what people fail to realize is its social implication of disrespect towards fellow citizens and the environment.
We live in a world surrounded by many known and unknown diseases. Spitting in the open leads to diseases like tuberculosis and the common cold, and it posed a major challenge during COVID times too. Even if we keep aside the disease transmission, don’t people care about social etiquette and ruining the beauty of the place they reside in? The majority of spit stains are contributed by people who consume tobacco and kwai(betel nut). With tobacco stains and rubbed lime on almost every building wall, it just puts Shillong in a bad picture if seen through the lens of a tourist.
One often associates spitting in public as a habit of the people belonging to the economically backward section and illiteracy, but this nuisance is very much a generalised problem irrespective of the strata one belongs to. As I was walking through the streets of Khyndailad (Police Bazar) and mind you not once but on multiple occasions, I have witnessed people spitting without looking left or right. These gentlemen were not even polite enough to find a drain or to even look behind before spitting, let alone care about the spit droplets that dropped on my feet. Judging from the looks of one of the person in one of my various encounters, he seemed to belong to the so-called upper strata of our society that is fully suited and booted. And yet he spat on the road amidst the Police Bazar rush in the evening. He simply craned his neck to the left and spat. It was pretty insulting not just to me but to the entire public present there at that time. At an individual level, I feel disgusted to come home with the same shoes I wore outside which have trampled 100s of spit stains and droplets. I am sure many people out there will agree with this too.
We often blame the government for every small and big public health issue. But regarding this matter of openly spitting in the public, our judiciary has already passed laws to combat this nuisance. Section 23 of the Meghalaya Factory Rules, 1980 states that the spittoons will be provided in each hospital at convenient places and will be fined for contravention with Rs 5. Section 55 provides for the spaces where spittoons can be made. Section 56 specifies the types of spittoons to be made and their cleaning criteria are given in section 57. Under section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 spitting has been made a punishable offence in April 2020 in light of the COVID 19 transmission. Even if there are no spittoons nearby and one really has to spit, they can always use the municipal drainage line or the dustbin per se. One can also use tissue paper or a public toilet for spitting. I know it is not possible to let go of the habit of chewing tobacco or kwai in a day in order to refrain from spitting in public. But there are many ways to ‘not ‘create public nuisance if one is willing not to. It is my appeal to the people of Shillong and India in general to not spit in public spaces.
In the end, one might find the grandeur of social etiquette of spitting in public insignificant, but its effect on an individual who’s witnessing the act may be significant. It not only looks unhygienic and inaesthetic, but it is also disrespectful to fellow citizens. Catering to good manners reflects who we are and only makes us humans. Refraining from spitting in public or rubbing lime on the walls, not only makes us adhere to the laws but also makes our Shillong a better place to live.
(Dr Firdaus Samad is with Indian Institute for Public Health (IIPH) Shillong)