ON SUNDAY, another pulse polio day, families at Karula village in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, hid their sons at home and took their daughters to vaccination booths. The reason? Most of the villagers fear that the vaccine will make their children impotent.
"You can vaccinate my four daughters if you want but not my son," said Vimla, who refused to get her youngest child immunised. "If my son is destined to get polio, then no vaccine can save him." It is the same story at Chakfazalpur, Kundarki, Kuselpur and other villages in western UP.
The promotional programmes by Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar have had little effect in these villages. "We know how best to raise our children," said Shakeela of Kundarki. "If something happens to my son, I will suffer, not the government."
Pandhari Yadav, district magistrate, Moradabad, said the districts in western UP had the lowest routine-immunisation rate. "Through our network of workers, we found there were 1,500 families who flatly refused polio vaccine for their children," he said. The fallout is that UP is the state worst hit by polio. It accounts for 438 of the 521 cases reported nationwide.
"Members of a particular community think the vaccine is sinful. Since the vaccine has a light tinge of red, they think it is blood," said Rashmi Bhatnagar, a social activist at Husenpur village, Moradabad.
"My grandmother told me the vaccine was poisonous," said Hussain, an eight-year-old boy whose three-year-old sister should have been administered oral polio vaccine on Sunday. But the family made sure she was not taken to the immunisation centre. In these villages, children have been asked by their parents not to go near polio booths.
Yadav has planned a campaign to reverse this. The district administration has asked religious leaders, teachers, doctors and panchayat heads to talk to the villagers.