Painting the town red: Britain bristles at Asian-made paan stains

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Apr 04, 2016 18:08 IST

Indians are painting British towns red and the authorities are not amused.

Paan-spitting among Indian-origin people and non-resident Indians in the UK has prompted city councils to slap fines, issue protection orders against offenders and even use anti-graffiti sprays to clean the stains.

Red spit marks on walls and pavements are hard to ignore in towns and London areas with a large Asian population, forcing civic bodies to crack down on the unhygienic habit.

Police in the London borough of Brent have imposed a fine of 80 pounds (around Rs 7,650) for each such offence, particularly along middle-class neighbourhoods of Wembley High Road and Ealing Road.

Paan is widely available at shops and restaurants to cater to the Asian, especially the sub-continental, habit of chewing the betel leaf, which is believed to aid digestion.

In the east Midlands city of Leicester, the city council recently carried out a public consultation on spitting, and the opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of penalising offenders.

“We are aware of this problem, which is unhygienic and leaves unsightly stains on pavements. We are looking at including paan-spitting in a future city-wide public spaces protection order, which would give us more powers to tackle it,” the city council spokesman said.

Leicester has a large number of Indian-origin people living around Belgrave Road and Melton Road.

Cleaning teams went out last year at the request of ward councillors and used anti-graffiti spray equipment to remove paan stains from walls and dustbins. “But, it’s not an easy task,” the spokesperson said.

Many Indian-origin residents are equally disgusted. Jit Dhanji, the service delivery manager at the Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre, told the local daily Leicester Mercury, “It is a cultural thing. People have done it for generations upon generations in India and it is fine there. But it is not appropriate in an urban environment like Belgrave.”

Dhanji, however, doesn’t believe its borne out of malice. “These people just need to be educated about where to spit,” he said.

A Brent council spokesman told HT police were acting against paan-spitting but the area was too large to be watched all the time and perpetrators were reluctant to spit in front of uniformed officers.

“In 2013, public health functions were brought under council control. As a result, there are plans to re-launch the campaign with a greater focus on raising awareness on the health risks of chewing tobacco paan and offering practical support to help chewers quit,” he said.

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