Situated to the northeast of the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh, Malana is a small, remote village nestled in the Himalayas. It is located in the Jari block of Kullu district and stands separated from the rest of the region by the Malana river, also called the Malana nala. To reach Malana village, one has to travel on a mountain road up to a gate which says, “Way to Malana village.” The car drops you at that point. From there, one has walk downhill to the river, cross a bridge, and then hike up to the village on the other side of the valley.
In May 2021, I came across a news report that villagers of Malana were resisting vaccination against COVID-19, citing a diktat from their local deity. There were no COVID-19 cases in the village. I decided to travel to Malana. I wanted to explore how vaccination was unfolding in Malana, and to document the efforts of healthcare officials in carrying out the process in this remote village. The difficulty of such projects in mountains and remote regions of India often goes unnoticed.
In Malana, the belief of villagers that their deity warned against the vaccination added to the challenge. The people of Malana worship a deity named Jamdagni Rishi. According to the villagers, the deity speaks to them through a medium—a person or people chosen by the deity. They refer to these people as “Gur.” The Gur conveys the deity’s directions to the villagers. To many, the deity’s words are final. Villagers I spoke to said the deity had communicated to them that they should not be vaccinated. Prem Singh, the medical supervisor of Jari also told me that villagers had told him of their reluctance to get vaccinated because of the deity’s message.
On 19 May, before I headed to Malana, I got in touch with Sapna Sharma, the block medical officer of Jari. She is leading the healthcare team responsible for vaccination in Jari. She told me that after multiple attempts they managed to convince the villagers to take the vaccine and would start the drive as soon as possible. She was worried that any delay might lead to further resistance from the villagers. She had spoken with the village pradhan and sent her team to talk to the residents, to explain that the vaccine is safe.