Husenpur village in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh has its own version of the Pied Piper. With a bowl of kheer in hand, officials are wooing children to polio booths.
Toddlers in the village followed their noses to the polio booth where, as per an order of the district magistrate, pudding was prepared as mid-day meal on Sunday. "The news of kheer being prepared spread like wildfire and children started pouring in. We have a kitchen near classrooms. Children usually look out for what is made for lunch. On Sunday, they were ecstatic when they saw the aaya preparing kheer," said CP Verma, supervisor of the immunisation campaign in Husenpur.
Parents offering excuses not to take their children to booths has little impact when pudding is at stake.
"Children are bringing their younger siblings and friends to the polio booth if their parents are busy in the fields. We tell every child to bring his or her neighbour and tell their friends about the kheer," said Qamar Khan, a nurse in nearby Kundarki village.
Besides pudding, whistles and caps are also given to children being vaccinated.
"We are giving them all the reason to not stay away from polio booths. Earlier, only 40 per cent children were covered in these villages. Giving freebies and kheer might not be the only reason but it has definitely contributed to the fact that over 60 per cent children were vaccinated on Sunday," said Pandhari Yadav, District Magistrate, Moradabad.
Authorities have also involved ration-shop dealers (as they know most of the families in the village), pradhans, sarpanchs, imams and teachers to encourage more families to participate in the immunisation drive.
Officials say that it is essential to vaccinate every child as western Uttar Pradesh is responsible for spreading the polio virus to other states. "It is important to educate and convince these families and ensure that no child is left out of the campaign. To educate the minority community, we have roped in the Aligarh Muslim University, Hamdard and Jamia universities. They help in requesting local religious leaders to encourage people to get their children vaccinated," said Augustine Veliath, Communications Officer, UNICEF.