You could call it a shortsighted step or sheer folly, but either way it will harm the community they profess to speak for. In a move that defies all logic, local clerics in 30 Muslim-dominated villages in Uttar Pradesh's Sambhal district have asked people to boycott the polio immunisation drive in their villages. The reason: they want to put pressure on the state government to make their villages a part of the Moradabad district. Along with this anti-polio drive, the clerics have also asked the people to stop going to political rallies, ban entry of politicians into their villages and stop sending their children to schools. They have also announced that a fine of Rs. 500 would be imposed on families if they don't abide by these diktats. The district administration has given stern warnings and has threatened to invoke the National Security Act but despite that the November 24 polio immunisation has suffered because of the call.
By stopping children going to school, they cannot be unaware of the harm they are doing to them. However, by stopping the polio drive, the clerics are not only putting the children of the villages at risk but also other children in the country since the polio virus knows no geographical boundaries. If there is an outbreak in Uttar Pradesh, it is sure to spread to other states and also across international borders. The eradication of polio has been one of India's very few public health success stories and these leaders are putting that at risk. The last case of polio was reported in the state (Firozabad) on April 21, 2010. The last case of polio in the country was reported from West Bengal on January 13, 2011. Last year, India was removed from the list of polio endemic countries by the World Health Organization. India will be declared 'polio free' if no more cases are reported for another year. There is lot at stake, the uppermost being the health and lives of our children.
The biggest challenge for polio eradication was UP and initially the Muslim community was against the vaccine because of rumours that it had pig fat in it and that the immunisation programme was a device to control their population. To get around this, the government approached the Muslim Ulema Committee in 2004 and later they started announcing the immunisation dates after the Friday prayers. Some even held camps inside the mosques. So in a way, the ulemas of Sambhal are going against what their religious superiors had accepted. The state government should not allow this blackmail and use all its powers to ensure that children go to school and the anti-polio drive can continue without any hitch.