Bengaluru Woman Drives Mass Movement Against Public Spitting

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Bengaluru Woman Drives Mass Movement Against Public Spitting

Odette Katrak's initiative called 'Stop India Spitting' started in 2020 during COVID-19 to raise awareness about the repulsive habit India is known for globally.

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Over the years, India has gained fame globally for many reasons. One of them is the disgusting habit of spitting in public places. Every nook and corner around the country is distastefully adorned with red stains, among other 'artworks' naturally painted on the walls.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), India is home to 267 million consumers of smokeless tobacco such as 'khaini', 'zarda', 'gutkha', betel leaf (paan) consisting of areca nut (supari), etc. Scores of people enjoy the addictive 'delicacy' despite being proven to be a massive health risk.

Like chewing tobacco, spitting comes with an equally harmful set of health risks. They intensified during COVID-19 as it is a convenient vehicle for carrying dangerous germs and viruses. With masks and social distancing introduced to fight the pandemic, spitting was discouraged to protect each of us.

The government has stepped up to curb the constant menace in the past. Several state governments have declared spitting an offence equivalent to a hefty fine. Medical experts in the country have emphasised on implementation of such laws.

However, it is easier said than done. The COVID-19 pandemic, indeed, was an eye-opener in terms of the numerous irregularities. They have existed around us for time immemorial. Over 80% of Tuberculosis (TB) cases come from India, rising in 2020. The primary reason behind the dangerous condition is public spitting. As the country aims to eliminate the disease by 2025, stricter measures need to be taken to reach the goal.

The Indian citizens have an essential role in the same, not just the government and experts. The age-old 'chalta hai' attitude results in turning a blind eye towards anything around us. Because of this, public spitting is silently encouraged, with nobody pointing out the culprits.

In light of this, Odette Katrak is spearheading a movement against spitting. Inspired by personal incidents, the Bengaluru-based Behavioural Change Consultant took it upon herself to nip the problem in the bud.

Making The Unaware Public Aware

Katrak's tryst with the unfortunate habit goes many years back in 1999 when someone's spit landed on her daughter's arms. "I remember my daughter was three years old, and I was walking with her through a railway station. Somebody spat, on her hand. What I did was I immediately shouted at the person. Thankfully, I had soap, so I was able to wash it out with soap," she speaks to The Logical Indian.

Like any average Indian, the problem did not stay in her mind as she soon forgot all about it. With everyone being so engrossed in their lives, incidents like spitting become trivial. However, this did not diminish Odette's zeal to make a difference around her. A statement made by her daughter in her younger days hit home that pushed her further in the cause.

Closely working with the city police, she started with various traffic initiatives to improve in the bustling Haryana city. Along with this, Katrak also worked with endeavours to make the surroundings safe for women. Her philanthropic efforts continued even after she moved to Bengaluru.

Spitting Became A Personal Matter

After many years, the ghost of spitting came back to haunt Katrak. Her daughter was playing with a toy ball when it bounced, after which the spit landed on her land. It was this time that she decided not to be indifferent towards it.

However, her approach towards it changed dramatically. "Earlier, I used to shout at anyone who spat, and it turned into an argument that achieved absolutely nothing. Over the years, I have refined the way I drive the necessary point home for the people. So, in public, I ask people about the reason behind wearing a mask. This way, I did not attack them personally. This question genuinely puzzles them, which encourages me to gauge them further," Katrak explains.

This mode of communication got people's attention. Spitting being a virus carrier was a fact not many were aware of. Therefore, it gave impetus to her to work on this specific cause with her volunteer-based organisation called Beautiful Bharat (Beautiful Bengaluru) through which she started 'Stop India Spitting.'

The name is an exciting departure from the obvious. "It is a different anti-spitting campaign with a message, asking people to refrain from spitting. It is deliberately named 'Stop India Spitting' as the conventional name will exclude those who do not spit, who tune it out because it does not concern them. It is because of this that the problem has reached increased by such epic proportions," she explains.

'Reduce Coronavirus, Make Spitting Punishable'

The movement runs in three stages. First was problem acknowledgement, where people should realise the harms of spitting. During COVID-19, everybody was cautious enough to practice social distancing and wear a mask. However, spitting continued to exist as no one was aware of its connection with the deadly virus.

"I distinctly remember it was March 16, 2020, when I was washing my hands in the kitchen at my house. Following the 20 second lathering rule, I did the needful and looked out of my window to see a person spitting on the road. Then, it dawned on me that we are doing so much to fight COVID-19 with masks and social distancing with the government guidelines, but what is the use? What is the point if people continue to spit on the streets without any care in the world," Katrak expresses her concern.

On the same day, the organisation tweeted to the Karnataka Chief Minister, asking him to prohibit spitting at all costs. This was followed up with an online petition to the Prime Minister titled 'Restrict Coronavirus, Make spitting punishable, which went viral with 41,333 signatures and ensured spitting became a national priority when it became punishable on 15th April 2020.

Social Media A Powerful Tool

What makes 'Stop India Spitting' all the more effective and engaging is its active presence on the internet. Odette Katrak and her hardworking team brainstorm innovative ideas and flawlessly execute them despite having no funds. Their followers and well-wishers play an integral role in taking their fight forward.

The Instagram and Twitter pages are adorned with creative posters that attract followers in large numbers. Made in 14 languages, they are available to share it further and take the message forward. "I have created a repository of sorts where people from across the country send in posters or videos of anti-spitting campaigns," Katrak adds.

Taking the conversation further, she excitedly explains the idea behind one of her posters is called 'Thoo Thoo Thoo.' "On February 2 this year, I was lying in bed with COVID-19. My brother in Singapore joked that today is the perfect day for your 'Thoo Thoo Thoo' campaign," she says. The poster is a genius wordplay on the date that was also shared on February 22 by Katrak herself.

A lot of their posts are also inspired by trending topics and stories. Two days after singer Lata Mangeshkar's death, rumours went rife about actor Shahrukh Khan 'spitting' on her mortal remains in Mumbai. "No! He did NOT spit, and it was a show of respect. But when we spit on our streets, we show disrespect for our city, our fellow Indians, our motherland and Mother Earth," said the enlightening post.

Another famous poster consists of a comic strip. It shows two scenarios where the bystanders react in a certain way to spitting. Katrak uses it often in her webinars. "First, I show the left side of the picture followed by the right side and ask the audience the difference between them. The former shows people blatantly ignoring the individual spitting while the latter shows them actively calling them out for doing this. I want to say that bystander involvement and reaction are significant. If you do not call the person out for spitting, they will continue doing so," she explains to The Logical Indian.

Video Engagement Is Critical

Apart from posters and image posts, the 'Beautiful Bharat' Instagram handle shares various kinds of videos as well. Young children from across the city sent their heartfelt pleas, asking the country to stop spitting altogether. They strike a chord with the audience as they are the future.

An adorable instance is the 'eternal good boys' that are the dogs. Filmed in Chennai, dog trainers had assisted in creating the video that made a storm when it was shared on the page. "The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) shared it on their social media page, with 12 million followers. Just imagine how many people would have seen and gotten to know about the cause," Katrak adds while speaking with The Logical Indian.

Other examples are a spin-off of popular songs to take the message forward. Two of them are popular songs by The Beatles, Imagine and Come Together. Teenagers who follow the campaign closely are involved in this, and it has become prevalent.

A rap video called 'Stop Spitting' sung by Adil Kalyanpur, aka 'A-KAL', a tennis player cum rapper, took the internet by storm. Interestingly, this rapper had done another rap on masks which Katrak came across, so she approached him. Kalyanpur's father studied with Odette Katrak's husband. Therefore, she got in touch with him. Initially, he was not keen on taking part in this, but she sent lyrics and a previous video. However, he agreed to do the same. The audience received it brilliantly, as the spitting plague was now etched in their minds.

Several big-wigs from Bengaluru are involved as well. Late Puneeth Rajkumar, the Kannada superstar, shared a video in the language, asking the locals to stop spitting. It was shared in June 2020 that went viral. Katrak shares an interesting interaction after it was released. She narrates, "One day, I saw a young boy sitting idle with some gas cylinders, spitting away to glory. I approached him and showed him the video with the actor in it. He was glued to the screen, and after watching it, he folded his hands and vowed never to spit again."

Bringing Spitting To The Radar

As the campaign finishes close to two years, 'Stop India Spitting' is gaining momentum. For Odette Katrak, her main aim is to drill the idea of spitting in the Indian minds to force them to do something about it. "Through all these interesting resources and videos, we are trying to put the subject in people's minds. We are putting it on the radar, stating that spitting is dangerous and it spreads diseases like COVID-19 and TB," replies Katrak.

With more people knowing about the campaign, they are doing their bit to spread it further. Inspired by it, they stop bystanders around them who spit by discouraging them from doing so. Till now, the initiative has over 90 partners that are working closely with them. Several NGOs are raising awareness about the same among marginalised communities in the country.

Odette Katrak feels there is still a long way to go despite the efforts. "You find a person, but they may not be able to afford it. The whole method fails because they will continue to spit. Therefore, mass involvement is the way forward to stop this," she ends the conversation, hoping that her campaign continues to intensify and mobilise people against spitting and discourage the Indian public from doing so.

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Editor : Ankita Singh
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