After swamping the urban population in its initial days, the second wave of COVID-19 has started taking a toll in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh. Though the data of COVID-19 infections in the tribal areas is not available with the authorities, tribal leaders have confirmed the fact that there is a huge surge in cases where people are ‘getting unwell and dying.’
Sankha Kol is a member of the Kol tribe. Nearly 20 families of the tribe live in Kolan Tola, in Mugwari village of Sidhi District of Madhya Pradesh.
“No one has contracted COVID-19 in Kolan Tola. But many people went for vaccination after Asha didi advised us to do so. Some of them passed away after the vaccination. I have four children to raise... I will not take the vaccine,” he said.
India had initiated the vaccination drive to stop the surge of COVID and subsequent deaths. However, the situation in rural tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh like Sidhi, Alirajpur, Jhabua, Burhanpur and Khandwa is still bad. The residents of tribal rural areas of MP are not willing to take the jabs.
According to the National CoWIN statics, the national average of people taking the first jab is 10 percent, while in Sidhi, it is 6 percent.
Only 1 percent of people in the district have taken the second vaccine dose. In contrast, the national average is 3 percent. The residents of tribal areas have no trust in the government, health workers or the vaccines.
Mamata, 38, is a resident of Mugwari village of Sidhi district in Madhya Pradesh. She said, “Ek baar corona se to bach bhi jaye, par agar teeka lene gye to pakka hi mar jaenge (There is a possibility of us getting saved from COVID-19, but if we get vaccinated, we will surely die).”
“People are dying from COVID-19 only when they reach the hospitals. Why are people dying when the vaccine is so effective? Will the government take responsibility for my family if I die after taking the vaccine? If the government assures me in writing, I will take the vaccine. I will hit anyone who comes into my home to give me the vaccine with sticks,” she added.
“My mother told me that hospitals are giving duplicate vaccines to them. Many of them got sick after getting vaccinated. So, I will not get vaccinated.”
Political Leanings and Fake News
Political affinities have become one of the major factors in creating distrust among people towards healthcare workers and vaccines.
Jangali Singh, 45, is a landless farmer and a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He smells a deep conspiracy in the vaccination process.
“The vaccination drive is a conspiracy of the Congress party to make the people of this country sick. Many doctors are from the Congress party and they are intentionally killing people to defame Modi,” said Jangali.
“Previously, I was ignorant about vaccines. So, I took the first dose of it. When I came home, I had a high fever for many days. Then I realised the vaccine is not good for health. Neither I nor my wife will take a second dose of the vaccine,” he said.
Many elderly people are misguided by fake news. Vimala Shukla has not allowed her daughter-in-law to get vaccinated.
“My daughter-in-law was ready to take the vaccine but I will not allow her to do so. Those getting vaccinated are fools. They should listen to their elders and not take such a big risk. I have heard that many people died after getting vaccinated,” Shukla said.
Many people are resisting getting vaccinated because of the fever they get after the vaccine. Muneshwari Devi is an 80-year-old woman who has serious doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine.
“Vaccines were good before, but now they are adulterated. Whoever has taken the vaccine jab got seriously sick. Medicine is meant to cure people, not make them sick. My neighbour took the first shot of the vaccine and got a high fever for many days and at one point, we believed she would not survive,” she said.
She added that doctors/healthcare officials barely take any time per person to inoculate them. “They are injecting it within seconds, like animals. I trust neither health workers nor vaccines. My Budhi Dhai (local deity) will protect me.”
Lack of Awareness
Prateek Prajapati, an MBBS doctor posted at Rewa Medical college says, “The tribal population has a lack of education and awareness about these health initiatives. Last week, I met two people from Kol tribe. They were more afraid of vaccination than COVID-19.”
A government official supervising vaccination programs in Mugwari and other villages nearby said, only 10 people out of 100 are getting vaccinated.
Rukmini Devi (name changed to protect identity) is an Asha worker in Mugwari and nearby villages. She said she is trying to clear the hesitation people have about the vaccine.
“I am telling people of this (Mugwari) village that the vaccine is completely safe but they are not ready to come out of their prejudice,” she said.
“Most people are not ready to get the second jab as many of them experienced high fever and got hospitalised after the first one. On 20 May, six people were scheduled to get a second jab of the vaccine but all of them refused to get it,” she added.
The deep-rooted vaccine hesitancy raises serious questions on city administration, which failed to create awareness among its people.
Mukesh Mishra, Public Relation Officer to the Collectorate of Sidhi district, acknowledged the issue and said, “Sidhi is a regressive area and the age group of 45 to 60 from rural areas are mostly showing resistance to getting vaccinated.”
“We have formed a crisis management committee at the village level that includes a Sarpanch, a secretary, a government teacher, Asha workers, etc. The committee is trying to educate people about the vaccination process. However, a lot of people are resisting it,” he added.