Trucks in India carry a kaleidoscope of colours, art, slogans and symbols — a distinct characteristic of the beast that rolls down the highways, connecting far-flung areas of the country. With close to 8.5 million trucks plying on Indian roads, the trucking industry is India’s backbone when it comes to the supply of essential services. Now, these trucks are carrying inventive messages promoting vaccination across the country, with the wording as cheeky as ever.
Truck drivers in the central Indian city of Bhopal are painting catchy slogans on the backs and sides of their trucks to urge people to get vaccinated. Despite being one of the worst hit countries, vaccine hesitancy continues to plague India.
These special pandemic slogans, often written in rhyme couplets and mostly in Hindi, have taken existing popular ones and tweaked them to include vaccine-centric messaging. One of the trucks reads, “Teeka lagwaoge to baar baar milenge, laparwahi karoge to Haridwar me milenge.” This translates to: “If you get vaccinated, we will meet again and again; but if you’re careless, we will meet in Haridwar.” Haridwar is a holy city for Hindus who go there to scatter the ashes of their dead relatives in the Ganges, a river of holy significance.
A bit dark for something painted on the side of a truck, we’d say, but hey, it’s a means to an end.
A truck artist paints a couplet on the back of a red truck. Truck drivers were stopped on the outskirts of the city and urged to sign up for the awareness campaign. Photo courtesy SRDS.
Other witty slogans, which also frequently reference Bollywood lines, include, “Main khubsoorat hun, mujhe nazar na lagana; zindagi bhar sath dungi, vaccine jaroor lagwana” (I am beautiful, don't cast an evil eye on me; I will be with you forever if you get vaccinated); “Dekho magar pyar se, corona darta hai vaccine ki maar se” (Look at me, but with love; coronavirus is scared of the vaccine’s power); “Hans mat pagli, pyar ho jayega; teeka lagwa le, corona haar jayega” (Don't laugh silly, you will fall in love with me; get the jab, corona will be defeated).
The side of a truck reads, "Vaccine isn't death but life! Save yourself and others, that's our responsibility." Photo courtest SRDS.
The initiative is part of a campaign by the National Council for Science and Technology Communication, a government body that works on educating the masses about science and technology, along with non-profit Search and Research Development Society (SRDS), a volunteer-led organisation that works on science, environment, and social justice awareness.
“We usually stop trucks and tractor-trolleys on the outskirts of the city and urge the drivers to get these slogans painted,” Monica Jain, chairperson of the SRDS, told VICE. “The drivers are often in a rush so sometimes, we paste stickers of these slogans on their trucks instead.”
A back of a truck reads "Don't laugh, silly, you will fall in love with me; get the jab, Corona will be defeated." Photo courtesy SRDS.
Aside from being stopped for slogans, drivers are also stopped at toll plazas and on the outskirts of the city and asked if they’ve gotten vaccinated, especially because their job involves travelling across the length and breadth of the country. Those who have yet to get the shot are convinced to do so. “There are several rumours and misinformation around vaccines,” said Jain. “A truck driver’s job is intensive. Many of them don’t want to get vaccinated because they’ll miss out on work.”
Talking to these drivers and clearing their misconceptions about the vaccination also means they can carry these messages into the hinterlands of India through which they often travel. After Bhopal, the organisation plans to expand this initiative to the neighbouring districts of Hoshangabad, Sehore, and Vidisha.
Nafees Ahmad Khan, a truck artist from the central Indian city of Indore, says that COVID-19 inspired slogans grew in popularity as truck art over the past year. “As artists, we find humour and creativity in everyday situations, so COVID-19 and vaccine related slogans on trucks have been around for some time,” he told VICE. “We’ve also seen these slogans as WhatsApp and Facebook forwards.”
A truck driver stands next to his truck that bears the message, "I'll get the vaccine and go away while you continue watching." Photo courtesy SRDS.
The Indian government claims they have administered over 200 million doses so far. But the media has also reported numerous instances of vaccine shortage across the country and a dearth of vaccination slots, leaving even those who want their jabs frustrated.
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