The time has come to end the stigma and discrimination against the leprosy-affected
It has long been a blot(धब्बा लगाना) on Indian society that while leprosy(कुष्ठरोग) is completely curable, there lingers(विलंब करना) a social stigma (कलंक/ दाग) attached to it. Even more shocking is that colonial(उपनिवेश संबंधी) laws that predate (से पहले घटित होना) leprosy eradication (तबाही) programmes and medical advancements remain on the statute (अधिनियम) book. These were unconscionably(अविवेकपूर्ण) discriminatory (पक्षपाती)from the beginning, but even in independent India, where the law has been an instrument for social change, the process of removing them has been bafflingly slow. The Lepers Act of 1898 was repealed(रद्द करना) only two years ago. It is time for concerted action to end the entrenched discrimination in law and society against those afflicted by it. Two recent developments hold out hope. One was the introduction of a Bill in Parliament to remove leprosy as a ground for seeking (खोजना) divorce or legal separation from one’s spouse(जीवनसाथी), and the other was the Supreme Court asking the Centre whether it would bring in a positive law conferring(विचार-विमर्श करना) rights and benefits on persons with leprosy and deeming(विचार करना) as repealed all Acts and rules that perpetuated(स्थायी बनाना) the stigma associated with it. The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, is only a small step. An affirmative (सकारात्मक) action law that recognises the rights of those affected and promotes their social inclusion will serve a larger purpose. It may mark the beginning of the end to the culture of ostracisation that most of them face and help remove misconceptions(ग़लतफ़हमी) about the disease and dispel(दूर करना) the belief that physical segregation(पृथक्करण) of patients is necessary. It is sad that it took so long to get such proposals on the legislative agenda.
Since last year, the Supreme Court has been hearing a writ petition by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy seeking to uphold the fundamental rights of people with leprosy and the repeal of discriminatory laws against them. The court has been approaching the issue with sensitivity and is seeking to find legal means to ensure a life of dignity(प्रतिष्ठा) for them. The 256th Report of the Law Commission came up with a number of suggestions, including the repeal of discriminatory legal provisions. It listed for abolition(उन्मूलन/ समाप्ति) personal laws and Acts on beggary. The report cited the UN General Assembly resolution of 2010 on the elimination of discrimination against persons with leprosy. The resolution sought the abolition of laws, rules, regulations, customs and practices that amounted to discrimination, and wanted countries to promote the understanding that leprosy is not easily communicable and is curable. The campaign to end discrimination against those afflicted, and combating the stigma associated with it, is decades old. While governments may have to handle the legislative part, society has an even larger role to play. It is possible to end discrimination by law, but stigma tends to survive reform and may require more than legal efforts to eliminate.