am glad to learn that the Supreme Court on July 5, 2018 (Thursday) ordered a rigorous campaign to erase stigmatisation of leprosy patients, including prime time programmes on Doordarshan and All India Radio. It also asked the centre and states to submit action plans for repeal of 119 archaic laws that attached disability to such patients.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and Justices A.M.Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud said that with the advancement of medical science leprosy was fully curable disease and it ceased to be contagious after a patient took the first shot of multi drug therapy (MDT), which was introduced in India in 1982. The bench said the Health Ministry and other departments, “shall carry out awareness campaign at a national and regional level, from urban areas to Panchayats, so that people come to know about curable nature of leprosy and its non-contagious nature.
The S order came on a PIL by “Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy”, which sought quashing of archaic laws which sanctioned isolation of leprosy patients, permitted dissolution of marriage on the ground of spouse getting afflicted with the disease and debarred such patients from educational institutions.
In this context, having attended seminars and workshops on “Leprosy Eradication” and visited various Rehabilitation Homes for Leprosy patients in Mumbai (Courtesy: Dr. ARK.Pillai-Founder and President of Indian Development Foundation (formerly Indian Leprosy Foundation) ) and who have been rendering selfless services for decades in treating and rehabilitating hundreds of leprosy patients), I just cannot resist myself from bringing out a legal topic, if not a bramble, related to this “so-called dreadful” disease -Leprosy.
Section 27(g) of the Special Marriages Act, 1954 (and the Act as amended by the Marriage Laws (Amendment Act, 1976), lays down the grounds on which a petition for divorce may be presented by the husband or wife. One of the grounds on which a petition can be presented is – that the respondent “has for a period of not less than three years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition, been suffering from leprosy”, the disease not having been contracted from the petitioner”.
Today, thanks to vigorous campaigns and yeoman services of Leprosy Relief and Rehabilitation Organisations and selfless and untiring efforts and services of the elite social workers, doctors and experts, over the past several decades, leprosy has been made completely curable and preventable. The cure does not require experts, eminent doctors or sophisticated hospitals or operations. Under the guidance of doctors, para-medical and social workers can easily cure the disease, provided there are willing co-operation from the society and of course the patients themselves. Leprosy thus is not the concern of medical practitioners alone but of para-medical workers, the patients and the general public.
One only needs to understand that this disease is neither contagious nor infectious. Thus, “fear, shyness, ignorance, superstition and social stigma and above all society’s cruel and harsh attitude prevent a leprosy patient (I wouldn’t call such a patient as a leper), to come out openly even at the initial stage of the disease for a simple and successful treatment. Society is thus very much responsible for the wrong impression that is created in the people’s mind that “leprosy is a dangerous disease and incurable!’. Hence, don’t you think that it is highly necessary to amend the above clause in the Act, making no discrimination among such persons and the ordinary human beings, in the eyes of law?
Better late than never that the SC expressed its serious concern towards leprosy and ordered awareness to be created, though several representations had been made over the last several years. Thanks now to the PIL filed, we hope that the archaic law will also be quashed and the necessary amendment will be made, as stated above. Sooner the better!
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)