Theatre steps up to change perceptions about vaccines in Kashmir
When the majority of North Kashmir’s Bandipore villages showed reluctance to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a local theatre came forward to win over hearts and minds.
- 27 July 2022
- 4 min read
- by Nasir Yousufi
Upon hearing about the vaccination drive against COVID-19 being carried out in their village of Madwan, two friends – 48-year-old Ali Mohammad and 45-year old-Ghulam Hassan – decided to slip into their apple orchards for the day to avoid the jab.
On their way, a crowd of people laughing and giggling in a village square caught their attention. A group of artists from a local theatre had organised a roadside skit to teach the locals about the benefits of the vaccines. Watching the show, the two farmer friends changed their mind and walked towards the nearest health centre to get their first vaccine jab.
“With the help of health officials, we would go to the places with a poor response to vaccination and perform to encourage and motivate the villagers. The theme of these skits is simple: vaccines save lives."
“Initially, we were reluctant to get vaccinated, but after watching this show, the doubts are over now. Vaccines are important for all of us and we are going to receive the jab,” the duo say unequivocally.
They are not the only people who have changed their mind after watching the skit; many more have been influenced by the artists to get vaccinated.
During the first phase of vaccinations, which began in Kashmir on 16 January 2021, some people shied away from vaccines due to a number of rumoured side effects. Mehrab, a local theatre from Srinagar, launched a village-to-village vaccination awareness campaign through mohlla nukads (roadside skits), encouraging and motivating people to get vaccinated.
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“A few days after the launch of the first phase of vaccination in the valley, the rumour mill was in full swing, spreading negativity about vaccines. We decided to launch the awareness campaign among the masses to promote vaccination,” says Hilal Ahmad Khan, Owner and Director of Mehrab Theatre.
“With the help of health officials, we would go to the places with a poor response to vaccination and perform to encourage and motivate the villagers. The theme of these skits is simple: vaccines save lives. During these shows, we talked to people, discussed the rumours and tried to clear their doubts. We motivated these people to get vaccinated. We simply countered the rumours through our cultural language of humour and reason,’ Khan adds.
They said it would affect your fertility but I can confirm it was only a rumour, as my wife conceived within six weeks of getting the first vaccine jab.
“I believed that if you get a jab, you will invite a Pandora’s box of side effects, but after watching few skits, I came to know that it was all fake,” says Bashir Ahmd Mir, a 48-year- old local resident from Hajin.
“They said it would affect your fertility but I can confirm it was only a rumour, as my wife conceived within six weeks of getting the first vaccine jab,” Bashir adds.
Artists from the theatre performed two to three nukad nataks daily in different villages for over than month. Jozy Mir, a female artist from the group, who participated in scores of the skits says that between four to eight artists performed in each skit.
According to Dr BA Khan, Chief Medical Officer, Bandipora, “In some places, we faced issues in vaccinating people, for people were reluctant to come forward. However, after the group of artists from the theatre were roped in, the number of vaccine beneficiaries in the medical block increased exponentially.”
In thanking the theatre, he adds, “These artists helped us when the department was grappling with a deficiency of human resources, as many staff members were either COVID-19 positive or in isolation. They went from village to village, assembled people and tried to motivate them for vaccination. After these skits and the constant efforts of health officials in the field, we have been able to vaccinate almost all of the target population in these rural areas.”
Giving details, Dr Aijaz Ahmad, Block Medical Officer Hajin, says that during the first phase of vaccinations, out of the 87,927-target population, the department successfully administered vaccines to all in a month. The department has administered thousands of extra vaccines in addition to the primary target, as a number of migrant labourers and army and police personnel were also vaccinated in these areas.
With most of the population above 18 years of age vaccinated now, the artists from the Mehrab Theatre are quite satisfied with the role they have played in the process.