When Corona fear grappled the entire world and we had 3 cases reported in Kerala, I don’t think Keralites were too scared, thanks to a deadly episode of Nipah virus that left us terrified, but readier than ever to face any similar outbreak. With a robust system of tracing back and quarantining all those who could be susceptible to infection, helmed by an efficient Health Minister and support staff across levels in the government and hospitals in the state, all that people needed to do was follow the directives issued by the Health Ministry. Most people did that. But there seemed to be some groups that were intent on not helping. Like an MBBS student who returned from China running a fever and instead of reporting to health officials, chose to follow “God’s path” by staying home and praying it out. Her mother even went to work as usual and had to be sent back home when news of health officials and police reaching her home came out. It took 3 long hours of persuasion and even threats of legal action before the girl agreed to be taken to an isolation ward and her family to be quarantined at home.

Let us ponder the humongous level of insanity involved in this incident. Here is a girl training to be a doctor when she doesn’t believe in medicine or its necessity herself, which brings up the big question – if she does become a doctor, what will she tell the patients who approach her? That they should go home and pray until they are cured or dead? The thought is not only disgusting for the extent of hypocrisy she displays, but extremely scary too because it exposes an ugly truth. Equally shocking is her and her entire family’s absolute disregard for others around. When almost everyone who returned from Corona-hit areas reported to the health department voluntarily or followed their instructions because of the risk involved not just for themselves, but for anyone who came into contact with them, this family gave priority to their religious beliefs. And just when I thought that was the worst I would hear, I heard of someone who had to be pulled out of a prayer group after ignoring instructions to report to health officials. The fact that innocent people who had no reason to be infected could end up getting infected if at all they carried the virus was hardly a concern for them. They attributed the insensitivity to God and religion.

I can’t say that I was all that shocked by this though. For the last so many years, I have been reading about the health department’s desperate, but failed efforts to get parents from certain religious groups to vaccinate their kids. Pulse polio drives are a continued failure in some of the northern districts of Kerala. And as recently as two weeks back, I saw news of a 10-year-old boy who died of Tetanus after an injury because he had never been vaccinated. Even worse was an outbreak of Diphtheria in North Kerala in successive years and later on in Tamil Nadu that claimed the lives of many children and affected so many more. All this because a large number of parents skip initial vaccinations or booster doses for their kids as their religious ‘teachers’ tell them not to – based on no real study, mind you. My first thought was that the parents of these kids should have been booked for their untimely and totally avoidable deaths because they were, in fact, playing with another person’s safety and life. Sadly, there is no law mandating vaccinations and anti-vax parents are given the freedom of putting their own kids’ and others’ lives at risk solely on religious grounds or based on personal beliefs.

Before you attribute this to lack of education or development status of the country, let me remind you that this mentality has become a global plague. So much so that Vaccine Hesitance was named by WHO as one of the ten major threats to global health. Only yesterday, a 4-year-old from Colorado died of flu because his mother trusted an anti-vax Facebook group more than the doctor who prescribed proper medicines, apparently even when her family was against her decision and even after the kid’s symptoms and seizures persisted for days. Diseases that had been eradicated decades ago with vaccinations – the result of hard work and major sacrifices of scientists – are starting to show up again in various parts of the world, including highly developed countries, thanks to people who wish to go back to the Stone Age. They are not ready to let go of any of the luxuries of life that science gifted them. But they shamelessly spit on medical advancements that have made life longer and much less miserable than what it was once upon a time.

We could ask them to go their way and live or die if it affected only them. But there are so many – infants, elderly, those who cannot be immunized due to medical conditions and just about anyone with a lower immunity – who are highly at risk if they are exposed to such diseases. And a significant number of people fighting against immunization and bringing back deadly diseases are knowingly and deliberately putting so many lives at risk. The massive Measles outbreak that occurred in America after decades is only a warning of how much worse it can get going forward. But when some of the American states repealed the ‘religious exemptions’ clause and suspended unvaccinated schoolchildren until they receive all age-appropriate vaccinations, their parents had the audacity to cry foul and say it was “discrimination”. They protested on the streets, bringing their children with anti-vax posters and placards that read “I’m not dangerous, I’m just a kid”. The poor kids didn’t and wouldn’t understand that as long as they could pass on fatal diseases to others, they were dangerous indeed, only because of their bull-headed parents. That kind of unbelievable self-centeredness that people pass on to their kids is alarming.

Religion is one major factor in this. But sometimes it can simply be an unnecessary stubbornness and know-it-all attitude based on absolute misinformation. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is this – your freedom is yours as long as it does not interfere with someone else’s. If your personal beliefs and preferences can kill another person or make him sick, it isn’t personal anymore. No God and no sensible man would forgive you if you forget that.