A Biblical Verse Triggers ‘Vaccine Refusal’ By Ultraconservative Christian Groups In North East

A Biblical Verse Triggers ‘Vaccine Refusal’ By Ultraconservative Christian Groups In North East A representative image. (Pixabay)
Snapshot
  • The negative campaign has affected vaccination mostly in Christian-majority Meghalaya, and also in Nagaland and the hill districts of Manipur that are dominated by Christians.

They call it the ‘devil’s jab’, insist it will make women barren and hold that the serial numbers on the vials are ‘satanic’.

Ultraconservative Christian groups, quoting the Book of Revelation — the final book in the New Testament — have been carrying out a relentless campaign against Covid vaccines in some of the northeastern states.

The negative campaign has affected vaccination mostly in Christian-majority Meghalaya, and also in Nagaland and the hill districts of Manipur that are dominated by Christians.

Health department officials in Meghalaya and Nagaland say the problem is confined to adherents of the ‘new age’ or ‘revivalist’ churches led by firebrand clerics.

The 13th verse in the Book of Revelation (read this) says that the ‘beast’ will leave his mark on the arms of every human and that will mark the beginning of the devil’s reign on earth. The Bible enjoins the faithful to resist this ‘mark of the beast’.

The ultraconservative Christians belonging to ‘revival’ groups which are quite dogmatic have interpreted the vaccine jab as the ‘mark of the beast’.

“Taking the vaccine involves registering oneself and being given a number. The Bible foretells that the advent of the reign of the devil will be marked by humans being given numbers without which he cannot carry out any transactions,” said a member of a Christian revivalist movement in Shillong who would only give his first name — John.

The verse these ultraorthodox Christians quote is:

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name — Revelation 13:16-17

These northeastern Christian revival groups have close links with conservative elements in the US who have been propagating conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 virus.

According to these ultraconservative Protestant Christian groups that thrive in the southern and southeastern US — the so-called ‘Bible belt’ — the entire Covid-19 induced pandemic is a hoax being perpetrated on the ‘faithful’ by non-believers.

They also believe that the vaccines will render the ‘faithful’ infertile and trigger terrible diseases among them. This is part of the devil’s game plan to wipe out the faithful from the face of the earth and rule over a world full of ‘heathens’, they believe.

Incidentally, these ultraorthodox groups also heavily fund evangelical activities in other countries, including India. Many also train and sponsor ‘faith healers’ who prey on the gullible with tricks and lure them into converting to Christianity.

These ‘faith-healers’ who are sponsored by the ultraorthodox Christians in the US Bible belt are notorious for their aggressive evangelism in many states of south India and the tribal states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

The obscurantism among adherents of the ‘new age’ revival movements in the North East has led to vaccination programmes lagging behind in Meghalaya, Nagaland and the hill districts of Manipur.

Of the estimated (2021) population of 38.65 lakh in Meghalaya, only about 75,000 — or 1.9 per cent — have been fully vaccinated while about 10.68 per cent of the population have got the first dose.

A little over 2.5 per cent of the 20.83 lakh (2021 estimates) people of Nagaland have got fully vaccinated while a little over 13 per cent of the population have taken the first dose.

In Manipur, 2.05 per cent of the state’s 35.01 lakh citizens have been fully vaccinated and 11.78 per cent of the state’s population have taken the first dose of the vaccine.

Most of those who have been fully vaccinated or have taken at least the first dose are residents of the Imphal Valley which is dominated by Hindus.

According to Manipur health department officials, barely 1.1 per cent of the people in the Christian-majority hill districts surrounding Imphal Valley have got themselves fully vaccinated while about 7 per cent have taken the first dose.

The vaccination figures of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur are much lower than the national average.

Alarmed over the refusal by these ultraorthodox and hardline groups to get vaccinated, the three states have launched campaigns to dispel doubts and misgivings.

Meghalaya has adopted a carrot and stick policy to get people to the vaccination centres. The government issued orders on Thursday (17 June) stating that only those shop owners who have got themselves and their employees fully vaccinated will be allowed to do business.

Also, only those taxi-drivers who have got themselves fully vaccinated will be allowed to ply their vehicles. One taxi-driver will be chosen randomly everyday for a cash award of Rs 10,000.

Meghalaya Health Minister A L Hek told Swarajya that apart from these steps, the government has also taken the help of the Christian clergy and influential non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to dispel doubts in the minds of people and get them to take the jabs.

The Nagaland and Manipur governments have also taken the help of church elders and priests, as well as influential NGOs and civil society organisations, to educate the sceptics and allay their fears.

It is, however, too early to say if these measures are working.

“In this age of social media and smartphones, people are bombarded with misleading and fake conspiracy theories. The ultraorthodox fringe groups are spreading the fear of the Satan who, they say, is allotting the ‘mark of the beast’ to the faithful,” said Jonathan Longkumer, a physician in Nagaland’s capital city Kohima.

Mizoram, a Christian-majority state, addressed this problem very early. “We adopted a community-based approach to vaccination and got the clergy as well as church elders, and the influential students’ union and community as well as civil society organisations to dispel doubts and myths among the people,” said a senior health department official in Mizoram.

A little over 27 per cent of the people of Mizoram have taken their first dose and 5 per cent are fully vaccinated. “We are vaccinating very fast and will shoot past the national average very soon,” said Mizoram Health Minister Dr R Lalthangliana.

Mizoram’s numbers would have been much higher had vaccine availability in the state been higher, say health department officials.

Incidentally, Mizoram was one state where ultraconservative Christian groups opposed the enumeration for the Aadhaar card more than a decade ago (read about that opposition here).

The refusal of many Christians in that state to get themselves enumerated and registered was born out of the same biblical fear of ‘mark of the beast’.

It took a lot of effort on the part of the state government, the mainstream church in Mizoram (the Presbyterians, Baptists and Catholics) and civil society organisations to allay those illogical fears among a section of Mizos.

But this time, thanks to the conspiracy theories about the pandemic spread by the religious far-right and ultra-orthodox groups in America’s ‘Bible belt’, the authorities of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur are having a tough time in convincing the radicals that the vaccines can save their lives as well as those of their fellow humans.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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