People Spreading Anti‑Vaccine Rumors Are a Threat to Society: J&K Court
Disrupting vaccination drives by spreading misinformation against Covid19 vaccines will not be dealt with lightly, a court in Jammu and Kashmir ruled last week, setting a precedent for zero-tolerance towards activities that seek to thwart immunization.
In the present case, the petitioner allegedly disrupted a vaccination drive organized by the government in a village called Ashmuji in the Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir. He is accused of instigating and provoking locals in the area by causing a “hue and cry,” which led to the vaccination drive being halted. As a result, he has been charged under the Indian Penal Code for endangering public health, and preventing public officials from performing their duties.
Principal Sessions Judge Tahir Khurshid Raina, who was hearing the petitioner’s plea seeking anticipatory bail for obstructing the vaccination drive, called him a “stumbling block” to mass immunization and termed his actions as “unsubstantiated and profane.”
The court went on to state that the petitioner’s actions are “not only grossly illegal but amounts to pushing the life of the people in peril, who, if not get promptly vaccinated, may fall prey to the deadly virus, [sic].”
The judge noted that acts like this not only prevent people from being vaccinated against a “fatal” disease but also lead to violence towards health workers. “It has been witnessed… the health workers have to face stiff resistance from the people during vaccination drive and even have been subjected to assault at [the] same place. This is all because of myths, rumors, and canard being spread by the people like the petitioner [sic],” the court said.
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In order to deter people from interfering with vaccination drives — especially at a time when parts of the population remain “skeptical and cynical” of the process — the court tried to set an example through the present judgment. “Let a message travel in the length and breadth of our society at large that no such unbecoming and illegal attempt of rumor mongers will be tolerated who are creating a hurdle in the way of vaccination drive. They will be dealt strenuously under law [sic],” the judge stated.
Denying the petitioner’s request for bail, the bench stated “their free movement and free speech is a threat to the society at large.”
Last month, the Meghalaya High Court had ruled that despite vaccinations being the absolute need of the hour presently, “forcing” people to get vaccinated violates their fundamental rights under the Constitution. Instead, the judges urged the government to sensitize people regarding the necessity of getting vaccinated amid a pandemic — in a bid to facilitate informed decision-making among citizens, rather than coercing them into getting jabbed.
When read together, the judgements suggest that while the government cannot force its citizens to get vaccinated, it can prosecute people who attempt to disrupt vaccination drives. However, at this juncture, the law seems to be unclear on the kind of activities that would be considered as “creation of hurdles” in vaccination drives.