Our Shillong Correspondent
At a time when the world is paying hefty amounts of money to get Covid vaccination, the government of Meghalaya is bound to announce prize money of Rs. 10,000 to vaccinate the people. This is because of the constant hesitancy to get covid jabs among the local people due to superstitions. This proved to be one of the major barriers in the success of the vaccination drive in the state.
Meghalaya, one of the seven northeastern states of India is a frequently visited place due to its scenic beauty as well as import and export of goods with its bordering states. Meghalaya borders Assam to the north and east, bounded by Bangladesh to the south and west.
According to the data updated by the Unique Identification Aadhar India in 31st May of 2020, the state has projected a total population of 3,366,710.
The Northeastern state Meghalaya, is currently fighting a tough battle to tackle the problem of Covid-19 spread in the country. This battle has come up in the form of two major issues related to the pandemic situation, firstly, the high number of Covid-19 cases reported in a daily basis in the state and secondly, as tougher duel against vaccine hesitancy. The second issue, however, has proved be a major stumbling block in the government’s effort of taking care of the covid terror in the state.
As per official figures released by the Health Department on June 11, a total of 8, 10,566 doses of vaccine have been administered to the beneficiaries including Healthcare workers and Frontline workers.
The government of Meghalaya earlier also planned 100 per cent vaccination to the targeted population in the state, but contrary to that, only 36.84 per cent have been inoculated. Out of these 36.84 per cent, only 97618 beneficiaries received second dose till date.
The matter of concern at this point of time is that progress of vaccination drive in Meghalaya has been has been immensely slow with the state ranked 31st out of the 37 states and UTs as per the Union health ministry’s data in June, 2021. Local officials of the state have cited vaccine hesitancy as one of the biggest hurdles in handling the covid situation in the state. Vaccine hesitancy has been identified by the state officials, particularly among the elderly, as the main reason for the slow pace of vaccination.
It is well known that superstitions are something that is widely believed by the people of Northeast India, especially in the remote tribal regions amongst the women folk. And this has proved to be one of the major barriers in the success of the vaccination drive in the state. These superstitions that the people of Meghalaya have started to believe is also a result of lack of awareness regarding medical benefits of the covid vaccine particularly among rural masses of the state.
The women folk of Meghalaya have started to believe that if they take the shots they would lose their fertility which is why the state has experienced hesitancy from the remote villages to get the jabs.
What is the root of this Superstition?
Meghalaya is a state which is highly dominant to Christianity. As per data, it is revealed that 74.59% of the state total population practises Christianity, followed by Hinduism as the second most popular religion with 11.53% followers, Islam by 4.40%, Jainism by 0.02%, Buddhism by 0.33% and Sikhism by 0.10%.
Interestingly, a cult leader in Meghalaya has got into the way of the Covid vaccination Drive. His followers are now rejecting the covid jabs saying that these shots will result in receiving curse from Jesus.
Point to be noted here is that, this cult leader, Pastor Phawa had earlier convinced his followers to reject government schemes for the poor.
While talking to the media on not taking the covid vaccination, one of the followers of this cult leader said, “I am not going to get myself vaccinated. Jesus will cure and protect us from all sickness.”
This cult leader, Pastor Phawa had also influenced people of Meghalaya to abstain from voting during the 2018 assembly elections and for this reason, was under the radar of the Meghalaya government. He has into hiding since 2018 and the government is looking for a chance to capture him, said an official source of Meghalaya.
The government of Meghalaya is trying their best to look into the vaccination hesitancy issue in the state, especially in the remote areas through several expensive campaigns and awareness programmes, with the help of various communities, Covid management committees, along with active cooperation from headmen, religious and community leaders, and leaders of several student organisations.
The issue has become so concerning in Meghalaya that the West Khasi Hills district administration had to announce Rs. 10,000 cash prize in forms of lottery to pull the people and draw their attention to the vaccination centres.
Well, even though this problem is centred to Meghalaya it can massively affect the nearby states. Assam, being the closest to Meghalaya, could severely be affected due to this problem resulting in degrading the covid situation in the region to all the nearing states.
While Meghalaya has been subjected to superstitious beliefs in the creation of barrier to the vaccination drive of the state, other Northeast states are also not being very commendable in handling the covid situation and health infrastructure at this time of crisis.
Notably, since the lockdown, Dimapur Railway station has not functioned. The stations are closed since eight long months, not allowing any passengers to drop at Dimapur. Moreover, there is no covid station established at the Dimapur railway stations.
However, the stations of Dimapur are going to function from the upcoming week, allowing only those passengers who have taken both the jabs of Covid-19.
Matter of concern is that, with no proper health facilities and infrastructure along with the ongoing superstitions that have become a huge barrier in tackling the pandemic situation, will the Covid-19 pandemic in Northeast India take a more vicious turn?