Lindsay Pereira: State, cops are missing the target

Whether it's a campaign against spitting or speeding, the authorities spend lakhs without taking their target audience into account

Lindsay PereiraIn June 2015, the Maharashtra state cabinet approved an innovative anti-spitting law combining monetary punishment with mandatory community service. First-time offenders were to pay a fine of R1,000, apparently, and put in a day's social work at a public hospital or government office. Second-time offenders were to pay R3,000 with three days of community service, while repeat offenders were to be fined R5,000 with five days of service. The fines collected were to be used only for 'healthcare services'.


Seven months since those announcements were made, on the occasion of World Cancer Day, state health minister Dr Deepak Sawant said a bill would be introduced against spitting in a bid to control the spread of diseases. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a single resident of Bombay who has paid a fine. This may have something to do with the fact that people I hang out with have no interest in spitting on the streets, of course, but I haven't seen a stranger being fined either. No one I know is aware of what the day's social work entails, or whether there really is work to be done at a government office when employees there never act as if they have many things to do. I'm willing to bet a significant amount of money that the people responsible for coming up with these fines and solutions aren't quite sure about anything either.

The spitting image of indifference: Last week alone, I watched about 55 men spit on the streets — most of them happened to be drivers who, for reasons unknown, think that traffic signals exist only so they can spit on both sides of their vehicles every three seconds until the lights change. file pic

The 'healthcare services' continue to remain a mystery too, like other mysteries such as the 'Swachh Bharat cess' and 'education cess' we pay the government routinely, without ever knowing where that money disappears or who it benefits. Most importantly, there hasn't been a word from anyone in the government about how this anti-spitting rule will ever be implemented.

Last week alone, I watched approximately 55 men spit on the streets. I counted. Most of them happened to be rickshaw drivers who, for reasons unknown, think that traffic signals exist only so they can spit on both sides of their vehicles every three seconds until the lights change. I also saw a significant number of men — Indian women continue to be better behaved than men, much like they have since the dawn of creation — spit at railway stations, while waiting for trains to roll in. There was no one around to stop them either.

Why did these 55 men spit despite reports in newspapers about fines and community service? Did they not see the posts on Facebook, liked by thousands? Did they not read the tweets?
The thing about advertising is this: a lot of it has to do with identifying your target audience, then reaching out to the people you want to target by using a medium that matters to them. This, unfortunately, doesn't seem to make sense to most of the people putting out messages about civic sense in our city. Why tweet about spitting when most people doing the spitting aren't on Twitter? Why does the government feel the need to spend lakhs on campaigns that simply fail to take their target audience into account?

I thought about our spitting countrymen again after reading tweets recently published by the Bombay Police. 'If you roll, we will weed you out,' read one, followed by the hashtag #HoshMeinAao. It was retweeted by 2,785 people. 'If you are driving like no one can stop you, your karma will', read another, liked by 223 people who obviously take either driving or karma very seriously. There were 267 tweets by the account so far, most of them mildly embarrassing.

I tried, and failed, to figure out what the police wanted to accomplish. If they want to show us they have a sense of humour, they must know that the impression will last only until we walk into the nearest police station with the intention of filing an FIR. If they want to seriously deter people from committing a crime, shouldn't they post photographs of them actually doing a bit of policing instead? At the time of my writing this, the police Twitter handle posted this little gem: 'Security of citizens is our highest priority. Let us put our best foot forward.' I couldn't even figure out what that meant. How long did they take to come up with it?

Earlier this week, mid-day conducted a sting operation of sorts, revealing how couples were harassed by constables for no apparent reason. Every one of those men in khaki wanted a bribe and threatened these young men and women until they complied. It's the sort of corruption every resident of this city has long been familiar with. The Bombay Police had nothing to say about this on Twitter.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira

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