Opinion | How Kashmir stole a march over other states in Covid vaccination drive

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Opinion | How Kashmir stole a march over other states in Covid vaccination drive

Today I want to share with you a good piece of news about Covid vaccination. This news has come from the most unlikely places of India: Jammu and Kashmir, hit by terrorism for the last three decades. The news is: J&K has already completed 100 per cent vaccination of 45-plus age groups in Jammu, Shopian, Samba, Ganderbal and some other districts. Ninety per cent vaccination target has been reached in most of the other districts.

According to official figures, over 28.41 lakh people in J&K have been given the first vaccine dose. If you add the first and second doses, it comes to nearly 34 lakhs. They include frontline workers, health care workers, senior citizens above 60 years, and citizens above the age of 45 years. Currently, Jammu and Kashmir ranks second after Kerala in the nationwide vaccination list. It has administered first dose to 21.6 per cent of its population, while Kerala has inoculated 22.4 per cent people. India’s national vaccination average presently is only 12.6 per cent.

In Jammu and Kashmir, 2.57 lakh people in the 18-44 age group have already taken the first dose, while 48 lakh people remain to be inoculated. Only 29 lakh people in 45-plus group remain to be inoculated. Vaccination sites have been increased in all the 20 districts. Door-to-door vaccination has already started to include old, infirm and physically challenged citizens.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed long queues of people waiting outside a vaccination centre in Srinagar’s Batmaloo locality. We also telecasted visuals from Rajouri, Shopian and terrorist-infested Anantnag, to show how health care workers are trekking hilly areas on foot and crossing rivers to reach villages for inoculating people. Hats off to these brave health workers who are working against all odds.

Teams of doctors, paramedical staff and nurses have been walking daily for several kilometres in Anantnag’s difficult terrain to reach nomadic groups, who shift their homes from one place to another. Those who still have vaccine hesitancy in rest of India must watch the visuals from Rajouri, where doctors and nurses are wading through knee deep water of rivulets to reach people in order to give them the jabs. The visuals shown were from Kandi village near Samote of Rajouri district.

Our reporter Manzoor Mir sent a report from Shopian to say that 98 per cent eligible people have been vaccinated in a single village called Hirapora till now. This is the first village to be declared ‘Corona free’ in Jammu and Kashmir. In this village, 82 people were infected with Covid-19 virus and there was fear among the villagers. Now the village is Covid-free. Similar vaccination camps are being set up in several other villages of Shopian district. The credit goes to the labour and dedication of health care workers of Kashmir valley. In Srinagar district alone, 47 per cent among the 45-plus age group have taken their first dose.

I want to congratulate the Lt Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha for this big success. This should act as an example for other states and union territories. Even in Kashmir valley, WhatsApp messages based on fake news and baseless rumours were circulated to create a fear psychosis in the minds of the people, but the citizens of the Valley rose as one and came forward to get themselves vaccinated. Kashmir valley has more than 90 per cent Muslims, and yet people did not fear vaccination.

Contrast the Kashmir success this with the opposition to Covid vaccination in  places like Lucknow, Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Lucknow, after people threatened vaccination workers, announcements were made from mosques appealing to people to cooperate and come forward to take the jabs. Similar appeals from mosques have been made from Etawah, Varanasi, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Hapur. Even in Delhi, announcements were made from mosques asking devouts to take vaccine shots. Our reporter Syed Nazeer went to Madina mosque in north-east Delhi’s Jaffrabad area. The imam of the mosque has already taken the dose and he has now appealed to others to come forward for vaccination.

There is no denying the fact that there is fear about Covid vaccine in the minds of a large number of Muslims, and the suspicions are so deep that it will take much effort to remove them. Rumours doing the rounds of social media are not only responsible. Frivolous remarks by politicians also add grist to the mills. Samajwadi Party MP Shafiqur Rehman Barq has said, ‘Covid is not a disease, but a punishment given by Allah for our sins. It is the anger of Allah, which can be calmed only when people weep before Allah’. Another Samajwadi Party MP S. T. Hasan has said ‘Covid and cyclones are due to  the wrath of Allah caused by wrongdoings during the last seven years of BJP rule, during which government tinkered with Shariat laws and brought CAA against Muslims’. If politicians make such frivolous comments, there is bound to be suspicion and fear in the minds of  sections of gullible Muslims. I still have faith in Islamic clerics who have themselves come forward, taken vaccine doses and are appealing to Muslims to join the drive.

Vaccine hesitancy is also prevalent among Hindus in rural areas of Gujarat. In 98 Hindu-dominated villages of Rajkot, which is Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani’s constituency, there is less than 10 per cent vaccination till now. There were many villages, where health care workers made at least seven rounds, but could not persuade more than 10 villages to come forward and get inoculated. Most of the villagers believe in rumours that anybody who takes the vaccine may die later. Nearly 200 out of 688 villages in Rajkot district have reported less than 10 per cent vaccination.

In Mumbai’s Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum locality, which faced the full brunt of the first wave of pandemic, only 15 to 16 thousand residents have so far taken vaccine in an area populated by more than eight lakhs. In this densely populated locality with narrow lanes and houses adjoining one another, this spot should have been on top of the vaccination list, because virus infection can spread within hours. Three big vaccination camps were set up with tables, chairs and drinking water inside tents, and teams of doctors and nurses ready to give jabs, but there were hardly any visitors ready to take the jab.

I feel said when I see reports of people hiding when vaccination teams reach villages of Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, the local administration arranged community kitchens for poor people who lost their earnings due to lockdown, but they refused to go to these kitchens because  of  baseless rumours that those who will go there will be forcibly vaccinated. In Ujjain, MP, a vaccination team was attacked by villagers. People who question the government on social media about the speed of vaccination should go to these places and find out how villagers are resisting vaccination.

Persuading people to get themselves vaccinated has become a tough task. The Centre has promised to touch one crore doses a day target by July. I do not doubt the government’s intentions, but are villagers and sceptics ready to get themselves inoculated? Those questioning the availability of vaccine stocks should devote more time to counter baseless rumours about vaccination. They should go to the people and appeal to them to get themselves vaccinated. This will help all in winning the battle against Covid pandemic.

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India’s Number One and the most followed Super Prime Time News Show ‘Aaj Ki Baat – Rajat Sharma Ke Saath’ was launched just before the 2014 General Elections. Since its inception, the show is redefining India’s super-prime time and is numerically far ahead of its contemporaries.

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