As India aspires to be a developed nation, at this point we seem to be acting like a country cousin trying hard to behave appropriately while visiting urbane gentry!
We are constantly trying to “refine” ourselves by letting go of our old native habits and behaving like the global (hence white) citizens of developed nations.
As the list of our bad habits include open defecation and spitting, there is organised effort being made by the state, and as it obviously needs strong justification, the reason on offer is hygiene.
So, a nation of billion strong is cleaning up its lifestyle believing that by stopping open defecation and spitting in public, we are going to have a healthy nation ahead.
While we seem to have presumed that open defecation and spitting spread horrible diseases, I remain confused as I see no rigorous scientific study for either, and interestingly, if I can trust Wikipedia, its entry on spitting reads, “It is commonly believed that it is possible to transmit infectious diseases in this way, including tuberculosis, influenza and the common cold but the epidemiological evidence that this is the case is not present and it is likely that this belief, although intuitive, is not reflective of meaningful risk.”!!!
In past, through this column, I have already questioned risks of defecation shifting indoors with the level of sanitation and drainage connectivity available in rural India, as it would mean bringing pathogens and their vectors like mosquitoes closer to home, for the spitting too, I have another point to ponder for urban India.
There is little doubt that Indians are champion spitters second to none, and hence there is a possibility that there is a very local reason for it.
As spitting is more about clearing the throat in India, I am tempted to link it to the naturally higher levels of PM 2.5 and even larger particles in air. It is entirely possible that spitting has come about as a body’s way of ejecting them out of the respiratory pathway.
If that is the case, a demand of sudden behavioural shift from spitting to no-spitting could end up having serious implications for the health of Indians.
While I am not making a scientific case based on any strong evidence, but as a speculation, the idea has merits worth considering. We do need to do more research about spitting before jumping to conclusions.
As an Indian, I also have a deeper concern to share here, as it is not just spitting but many other behavioural and social traits unique to India are now getting rejected because we imagine them to be inappropriate without really doing any research.
I would like to differentiate between social traditions and common behaviours here, as I am ready to agree that social changes can occur rapidly enough for such traditions to lose meaning. But, when it comes to common behavioural traits, I feel that they could have climatic and locational base in their evolution and hence may not be outdated even though they seem so.
As a nation, India needs to develop a well thought of import policy. From jurisprudence to lifestyle to architecture to food, a wholesale import of western concepts and products is what we seem to be aiming at in our desperation to walk and talk like the White man that we are not.
Definition of a developed nation must never be linked with life style, instead it needs to be linked with the way of life. India need not earn the brand label of developed. We need to define our own goals aligned with not just our history but our geography too.