By Quaid Najmi
Nagpur (Maharashtra), May 16 | Concerned by the sheer resistance among tribals for the Covid-19 vaccine jabs, a group of NGOs and leading personalities in Maharashtra have launched an awareness drive among the forest folks for the life-saver jabs.
In several districts of Vidarbha region, with a significant tribal populace, there are misgivings and misconceptions about the ongoing vaccination programme in the state, said Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) President Kishore Tiwari, accorded a MoS status.
“Like in other regions, the tribal people harbour wild ideas, they feel that vaccinations could lead to side-effects, short or long term handicaps or even death, and they are keeping out of the programme… In many areas, they chase away the medical or health workers going to enroll them for the drive,” Tiwari told IANS.
Roping in social workers and NGOs, Tiwari is leading small groups to tribal hamlets, explaining to them the benefits of the dose, how it can prevent them from Covid-19 and other aspects to convince them to register for the drive.
He said that in Vidarbha, Gadchiroli has almost 40 per cent tribals, 24 per cent in Yavatmal and 20 per cent in Chandrapur and most people are keeping off the vaccination drive, ringing alarm bells among the local and state health authorities.
The team members include Khushroo Poacha, the famous 82-year old Sikh, Baba Karnail Singh Khera, social worker Salim Khetani, filmmaker and Grand Maratha Foundation head Rohit Shelatkar, the Adar Poonawalla Foundation of Pune, with help from Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, State Minister Eknath Shinde and legislator Sanjay Rathod, besides VNSSM farmer volunteers.
“Last year, at the height of the lockdown, we distributed over 20,000 foodkits to the tribals in the region, under a project named ‘Aadhar Uddhavcha’ which proved very helpful to them. This year, we are distributing similar foodkits but now requesting them to join the vaccination,” said Poacha.
Shelatkar said that there are thousands of small tribal dwellings across the region with reports of large-scale Covid-19 infections, but the locals seem to ignore the dangers as they go about their routine chores.
“We shall be conducting complete health checkups, distribute 30,000 foodkits, give them thermometer and oxymeters, teach them the importance of physical distancing, hygiene, washing hands, wearing facemasks, etc to help keep Corona at bay,” said Tiwari.
After covering the main tribal districts of Vidarbha region, the team plans to concentrate on two other districts with massive tribals, like Nandurbar (70 per cent) and Palghar (40 per cent) with a similar initiative soon, said Shelatkar.
An aide to Minister Shinde said that, if necessary, the group may rope in celebs and travel to other districts with lower tribal populations to ensure that all the citizens in the state are covered by vaccination as soon as possible, as stated by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray several times.
Besides, the groups will also make appeals on social media, local Marathi TV channels, newspapers, banners, posters and personal contacts to drive home the message of significance of vaccination, said Khaira Babaji, who has fed millions of migrants at his small ‘langar’ near Karanji on the NH-7 in Yavatmal, working non-stop since the pandemic set in.
In Nandurbar the Biladi Zilla Parishad Primary School Principal Sachin Patki is conducting a drive among locals in a unique way by donning fancy dresses of a doctor, policeman, Lord Shiva, Lord Vasudeo (Sage Naradmuni), goes singing and dancing in villages and succeeded in getting many reluctant tribals to go for vaccination.(IANS report – May 05).
Maharashtra currently has the country’s highest caseload of 53,44,063, the maximum 80,512 deaths, but has also topped in vaccinations with 1,99,12,924 people already vaccinated with the first or second jabs across all categories till date.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)