Leprosy: The stigma prevails

We can't fight leprosy until we abolish these obsolete laws

swati

Swati Chandra | May 20, 2016


#leprosy   #polls  

(Photo Courtesy: World Health Organisation)

A couple of days back, Odisha assembly passed its Panchayat Laws (Amendment) Bill permitting leprosy patients to contest Panchayat polls. The polls are scheduled to be held in 2017.

With this, the state has abolished its 52-year-old law, which banished leprosy patients to contest polls, calling it “redundant”.

However, there are several existing Indian laws that are directly or indirectly discriminatory against leprosy patients and breed stigma about the disease.

Visiting a leprosy patients’ colony in Uttar Pradesh in 2012, I met a married couple who had been staying in the leper’s colony for eight years after being ostracized by their families. The man and the woman were divorced by their earlier partners [in West Bengal] because they had leprosy. The woman's husband left her even after her condition was cured.

[Certain    provisions    under    the    Hindu Marriage   Act, Muslim Marriage Act, the Indian Divorce Act, Indian   Christian   Marriage   Act,   the   Special Marriage Act are directly discriminatory against leprosy affected people. These laws consider leprosy to be an ‘incurable and virulent’ disease. An infection from leprosy for not less than two years, under these legislations, serves as a legitimate ground for divorce or separation between spouses.]

The woman appeared as normal and healthy as any other woman. She wasn’t suffering from any disabilities. Her hands and feet were not disfigured. She was a leprosy cured person. But on facing the stigma and injustice of having leprosy earlier, she preferred a leper’s colony to stay in. “I prefer staying in this colony because I don’t face discrimination here. All people who stay here are just like me. All have faced similar discrimination,” she told me.

There are lakhs of leprosy patients in our country who are silently suffering the discrimination and stigma of a disease which they have battled strongly. Moreover, the legal system in our country supports this discrimination.

India, as UN general assembly member, has passed the resolution on the elimination of leprosy and signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, the government has taken no action to modify the existing leprosy laws which discriminate against persons affected by the disease, which is now curable with scientific advancement.

In 2015, Law Commission of India submitted a report and draft bill called ‘eliminating discrimination against persons affected by leprosy’ suggesting a ban on the obsolete laws and prohibit discrimination.

Here is a list of some of these laws:
 

  • Under   the   State   Beggary   Acts,   persons affected   by   leprosy   are   earmarked   in   the   same category as persons suffering from lunacy and can be detained.
     
  • The  Life  Insurance  Corporation  Act discriminates leprosy patients asking higher  premium  rates  from them on  account  of  the  higher  risk  to their lives as understood in the past.
     
  • Many state municipal acts and Panchayati Raj acts do not allow leprosy affected people to contest polls. While Odisha has abolished the law, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan are still following the same.
     
  • The Indian Railways does not permit leprosy affected people to travel in trains under the Railways Act.
     
  • A leprosy cured person cannot obtain a driving licence under the Motor Vehicle Act.
     
  • Many employers misuse existing employment laws to terminate services of persons who are diagnosed with leprosy.



 

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