Superstition stops Potraj community from getting Covid vaccine: ‘Our goddess told us no need’

Despite possessing all necessary documents such as Aadhaar, PAN and Voter's ID, required to be submitted at the time of vaccination, the community believes that it does not need the vaccine.

Members of the Mariaai community, a nomadic tribe also referred to as Potraj, are not willing to get vaccinated against Covid-19 due to superstition. Known to be worshippers of Kadak Lakshmi, the members believe that their “goddess” has told them that there was no need to get the vaccine.

Despite possessing all necessary documents such as Aadhaar, PAN and Voter’s ID, required to be submitted at the time of vaccination, the community believes that it does not need the vaccine.

The members of this community earn their living by putting up tiring and difficult performances, in which the women play drums and men dance while hitting themselves with thick whips made of woven leather. The community lives in temporary sheds on an open parcel of land at Bopgaon village in Purandar taluka of Pune district.

Prahlad Nimabalkar, a youngster from the community, said, “About a week ago, some persons from our community were possessed by our goddess… She told us there is no need to fear and no need to take any vaccine. So we do not go to any Covid-19 vaccination centre.”

He said, “We have been living in Bopgaon for the past two months. There are about nine families here. We were earlier living at Indapur. No one from our community has been infected. Doctors have not visited us.”

The situation is similar among members of the community who are living in permanent houses under a government scheme in Vaiduwadi area of Hadapsar.

Maruti Kutekar from the community said, “Last week, the goddess told us not to worry. She asked us to follow measures like using sanitisers, but there is no need for taking vaccines and going to the hospital for treatment. If we feel unwell, we apply angara (ash) from the temple and it protects us…”.

“Our community members live at various places like Indapur, Baramati, Supa villages in Pune and also at Nashik and other places in Maharashtra. Nobody takes the Covid vaccine. And we have not heard of anybody suffering from Covid,” he said.

Kutekar, who also performs as Potraj, said they continued to perform at different places in the city even as their earnings had gone down during lockdown.

Another Potraj community member said, “We have all the documents, but there is no need of vaccination. Even those who have taken vaccines are suffering from Covid.”

Activist Kishor Shinde, who belongs to the Vaidu community, which is also a nomadic tribe, said, “They (Potraj) are good, hard working people, but superstition during Covid times can be dangerous. The government should take steps to get them vaccinated.”

Nandini Jadhav of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti said, “This is a serious issue. If anyone spreads wrong things by claiming to have been possessed, it’s a crime as per the law… It is important to counsel people who believe in such superstitions. And they should be prepared to take the vaccine.”

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