Yes Leprosy Still Exists: Let’s Pledge to End Discrimination NOW

Yes Leprosy Still Exists: Let’s Pledge to End Discrimination NOW

Health News

(World Leprosy Day is celebrated every year on 30 January to increase public awareness of the Leprosy or Hansen's Disease. FIT is republishing this piece from its archives to help fight the stigma against this disease.)

It has been over a decade since Leprosy was declared eliminated as a public health concern in India. However, the stigma and myths surrounding the disease continue to exist.

A cure for leprosy was first developed in the 1940s. Despite this, many of the leprosy-affected are ostracized by their communities and families. They are mistreated and looked down upon at public places and forced to live in “leper colonies”.

Social activist Baba Amte spent his life fighting for the rights of the poor and those affected by leprosy. Public policy expert Meghnad S takes us through the history of discrimination people affected by leprosy have gone through and continue to face even today.

Though leprosy like many other diseases, is caused by a bacteria, people inflict a string of socio-cultural beliefs on the leprosy-affected.

Even the legal framework is not devoid of this. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with regard to this was filed by an advisory group by the name of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. As per their petition, there are over 119 discriminatory statutes against leprosy-afflicted patients in our country.

Also Read : There Are 1000 Leper Colonies In “Leprosy-Free” India

Indian judicial bodies over the years have passed several discriminatory judgments against people affected with leprosy. The Supreme Court has made one-sided observations and used words like “virulent” and “disgusting” in context to the people affected. Besides this, they have upheld judgments that make leprosy a ground for getting a divorce.

There are many other discriminatory provisions that have led to the denial of a dignified life for people affected with leprosy:

  • Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act, 2000
  • Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
  • Railways Act, 1989
  • Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888
  • Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
  • Various Beggary Laws and the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956.
India has about 60% of the world’s leprosy cases. Unless the inequitable legal provisions are repealed, the stigma faced by the people affected is likely to remain.   

Poverty and discrimination have kept several patients hidden in colonies and they continue to be untreated. In the last survey conducted in 2016-17, nearly 1.35 lakh new cases were discovered. It is high time the policymakers, judicial bodies and civil society work together to ensure that people affected with leprosy lead a dignified and decent standard of life.

Producer: Vatsala Singh

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

Also Read : India Reignites Battle Against Leprosy, But is it Too Late?

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