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OLD HABITS DIE HARD: Sajjan’s Cherry Pit Spitting Can Be Traced To His Indian Roots

Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan was born in India – a country where hygiene, manners and courtesy are almost non-existent. Almost 70 percent of the population goes to toilet in open fields. Some of the pristine beaches of Goa are littered with garbage. Given this sad lack of hygiene and abundance of litter and filth, some refer to India as an “open sewer”. There was even an animated anti-poo video called Take The Poo To The Loo produced for many states in India where despite the authorities greatest effort, people still defecate in the open spaces. The City of Ahmedabad recently offered 1 rupee to those who use public toilets and do their dirty business. Pan-spitting problem is plaguing London, Dubai and many other places where Indians have migrated to in recent years. Ealing Road, in Wembley, London has openly displays signs prohibiting this filthy habit. In Dubai’s Meena Bazaar, one can see walls discoloured by red pan spit.

By Bhupinder S. Liddar

Old habits die hard!

This column is not about Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan eating cherries and being the”pits” in the Okanagan last week, though Mr. Sajjan definitely inspired it.

The inspiration came last week after Sajjan’s tiff with the store owner in Osoyoos, British Columbia, on whose property Sajjan was spotted tossing cherry pits from his parked car. The Minister apologized and the store owner regretted posting the video of the incident on social media.

The sight of anyone eating and tossing cherry pits from a parked car is not a pleasant sight! But it is a normal sight in India.

Don’t blame Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan. Why? Because this is what he grew up with and has not gotten out of it yet. This is not an attempt to make excuses for Sajjan, for he should know better than to litter, but an attempt to explain what he is a product of. We all know the adage: “You can take the boy out of India, but cannot take India out of him!”

Unfortunately, every immigrant community has its stereotype baggage tag: The Chinese are considered to be bad drivers, the Irish of being loud, and Italians are stuck with the “Mafia” tag.

Sajjan was born in India – a country where hygiene, manners and courtesy are almost non-existent. Almost 70 percent of the population goes to toilet in open fields. Some of the pristine beaches of Goa are littered with garbage. Given this sad lack of hygiene and abundance of litter and filth, some refer to India as an “open sewer”.

There was even an animated anti-poo video called Take The Poo To The Loo produced for many states in India where despite the authorities greatest effort, people still defecate in the open spaces. The City of Ahmedabad recently offered 1 rupee to those who use public toilets and do their dirty business. Pan-spitting problem is plaguing London, Dubai and many other places where Indians have migrated to in recent years. Ealing Road, in Wembley, London has openly displays signs prohibiting this filthy habit. In Dubai’s Meena Bazaar, one can see walls discoloured by red pan spit.

Yes, one may say, Sajjan was born in India, but he has been living in Canada, since age five. True, he may have been living in physical space called Canada, but his immediate social and cultural interaction most likely was with people of his own community. This is the norm in many communities.

A few years ago, in Vancouver, an Indo-Canadian friend kept driving around looking for an open space for one of our fellow passenger to relieve himself. We had a female in the car too. When it occurred to me what was going on, I put my foot down and told him to drive to a nearby hotel or restaurant to use a toilet, which he did. The sad fact is this person has been living in Canada for last three decades. He was doing what he would have done back in India – pee in the open!

Pan-spitting problem is plaguing London, Dubai and many other places where Indians have migrated to in recent years. Ealing Road, in Wembley, London has openly displays signs prohibiting this filthy habit. In Dubai’s Meena Bazaar, one can see walls discoloured by red pan spit.

Many Indians immigrants, even when they have lived in Canada for decades do not pick up habits of the new country. Reason? They live in cultural/racial ghettos. I used to wonder why many immigrants from India do not pick up habits of the adopted country. I was then told to look at the Indo-Canadians lifestyle. Who do they mingle with? Where do they go to socialize? Other than at work place, where and when do they ever mingle with other communities or mainstream majority community? Even schools are becoming ghettoized. There are schools boards, where 98 per cent students are from one ethnic or religious group. When and where are these kids going to pick up or learn habits of the new country? Unfortunately, Indian immigrants to Canada have not have not experienced living in a majority and having to adapt their lifestyle prior to arriving here..

When one visits an Indo-Canadians home, one finds TV channel streaming live news from India or Indian music, movies, drama or comedy shows. Perhaps other recent immigrant communities such as the Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Pilipino, Chinese, do the same within four walls of their homes. If so, then Canada is failing to some extent in creating a Canadian identity.

One of the tenets of Canadian identity is social and civic responsibility. A small part of which is for one to be aware of and ensure “good” of all and space around one. This includes awareness of and ensuring cleanliness in public places. This sense of “social good” is a rare commodity in some of the developing countries where recent immigrants have come from.

Sajjan’s story is a wake-up call to immigrant communities – look around, learn, and pick up good habits and leave the bad ones back in India, or wherever else one came from!

Kenya-born Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat.

 

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