June 17: The end of 2020 offered some relief when the vaccine against the deadly virus came into the market, but now people saying no to the vaccine. Usually, such vaccines take years of R&D and the rounds of trials and tests before it is made available for the general public. However, in the case of Covid, looking at the amount of mass destruction the virus is causing, the procedure was expedited, and the vaccine rolled out.
The northeastern government, the battle against Covid, is proving to be at the twin level. According to the national data, there has been a widespread corona infection between 30th May to 12th June. Assam reported a total of 53,707 cases, Manipur reported 10,472 cases, and Tripura saw 8,347 cases. Given the geographical terrain, it is difficult to make medical facilities and vaccination available to remote areas. If that was not enough, to rub salt in the wounds, a particular section of a minority group is refusing to take the jab.
The foremost reason is distrust of the ruling government. As a result, Muslims are reluctant to get the vaccine, even though Jamat-e-Islami Hind and other Islamic religious scholars support the drive and encourage the community to get vaccinated. What factors attributing to this unenthusiasm are bred by illiteracy, misinformation, and the distrust of the Modi government?
The south Salmara Mankachar, a remote region bordering Bangladesh in Assam, is the lowest on the vaccine administering chart. The area has a one million population, and the majority of them are Muslims. However, the authorities have only been successful in vaccinating 3% of the total inhabitants.
The widespread declaration of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma quoted umpteen times during his election campaign that his party did not need the Muslim votes to win developed an atmosphere of distrust in the Muslim population of the state. What further exacerbated the sentiments was that the right-wing government came into power in the state by targeting unauthorized Muslim labourers from across the borders.
A report states that the students in a school in Guwahati fled the school to obviate the vaccination for Japanese encephalitis administered by the state health authorities, fearing the “RSS vaccine” render them sterilized. A similar episode occurred in the remote part of Assam a few days later. Both areas housed a sizeable Muslim population. Japanese encephalitis was responsible for 779 mortalities between the years 2010 to 2016.
It is not the first time that the misconception and ill information derailed a vaccine drive. The Muslim fundamentalists contributed to sabotaging the polio drive in India and other countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The research done by NCBI in 2009 divulges some extremist facts.
“As of 2009, polio remains endemic to 4 countries (India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan); in 2008, cases were also detected in 14 other countries.”
“Religious opposition by Muslim fundamentalists is a major factor in the failure of immunization programs against polio in Nigeria (2), Pakistan (3), and Afghanistan (4). This religious conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan is one of the biggest hindrances to effective polio vaccination.”
“Another common superstition spread by extremists is that vaccination is an attempt to avert the will of Allah.”
Significant disparities in the incidence of polio existed during its eradication campaign in India. In 2006, Muslims, who comprise 16% of the population in affected states, comprised 70% of paralytic polio cases. This disparity was initially blamed on the Muslims and a rumour that the vaccination program was a plot to sterilize their children.
According to the census conducted in the year, 2011 Muslims form 14.2% of the Indian population, a sizeable number. The vaccination drive falls flat until the entire population is vaccinated. It is the government’s responsibility at both state and centre to eradicate the feeling of distrust and initiate confidence. In the interior of the northeastern region, where it is a challenge to carry out the drive smoothly, the last thing the government needs is a non-cooperative, distrusting, and adamant population, refusing to take the jab.