Meghalaya: Pastor asks people not to take vaccine; tells them ‘Jesus will cure you’

The cult leader had earlier convinced his followers to reject government schemes for the poor, informed a senior district official.

Pastor Phawa, a cult leader in Meghalaya has been alleged to have convinced his followers to reject the COVID-19 vaccination, persuading them in the name of God.

The cult leader had earlier convinced his followers to reject government schemes for the poor, informed a senior district official.

An anonymous official informed that Pastor Phawa has influences in some remote villages of Khasi and Jaintia Hills region, comprising seven districts, where there has been very low penetration of vaccination.

As per official sources, Phawa goes around asking parents to stop sending their children to schools, reject MGNREGA jobs, reject foodgrains available to BPL/APL ration cardholders and abstain from Aadhaar enrolment, as according to him, the unique identification number is similar to that of the number marked by the devil in Christianity.

"There is no way I am going to take the vaccine," said one of his followers from Jongksha Wahshnong village, adding that she was not going to get herself vaccinated because Jesus would cure and protect her from all sickness. 

The follower and her family of five, including her 80- year-old grandmother, had not availed any of the government support schemes for the poor, including housing, food grains and toilet construction. None of the three adults in the family has exercised their voting rights yet.

A doctor at the Public Health Centre (PHC) of the village also informed that there are more than 30 families in the locality and none of them have even taken polio drops and still refrain from taking medicines for other ailments.

Even when the village was declared a containment zone due to an increase in the surge of COVID cases in the state, only about 400 of the 2,000 residents came forward to get themselves tested for the viral infection, the doctor informed.

Sampath Kumar, Meghalaya Principal Health Secretary assured that to encourage people to get themselves inoculated, the district administrations are applying nudge strategies to effect behavioural change among people.

"This is being done through the issuance of notifications, advisories, counselling in the interest of the masses, with the greater interest of saving their lives and those of their near and dear ones," Sampath Kumar said.

The Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Assembly, however, has denied the presence of such a Pastor saying, "We have never heard of such a man leading such a cult. We are not aware. If there is any such man, he should be arrested."
According to the concerned elders in the village, the cult leader had managed to convince residents of Jongksha to break away from the Presbyterian Church sometime during 2010-12.

During the 2018 assembly elections, the cult leader had reportedly abstained many people from voting, and since then, he has gone into hiding as he was under the radar of the state government, the officials said.

A journalist in South West Khasi Hills district, K Sangriang, said that the last assembly polls recorded low voters' turnout as many of the members of the cult abstained from exercising their franchise.

"Some had used sticks while some covered their fingers with plastics to press the button in the EVMs so as to avoid direct contact with the voting machine while casting their votes in 2018. Many others simply did not vote," Sangriang informed.

Meghalaya health minister A.L. Hek said that he was informed of the same during his tour to interior villages and legal actions are being considered against Phawa.
(With inputs from PTI)

(Edited by Aparmita Das)

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