Laws continue to discriminate against people with leprosy

Leprosy is one of the world’s oldest diseases and is completely curable. Yet, people with leprosy face discrimination at many levels. One from the society at large, and two, from within the disability sector itself.

This is one of the issues that will come up at the two-day National Disability Consultation being organised by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in New Delhi next week.

There are 119 provisions across various Acts passed by the central and state governments that discriminate against people affected by leprosy (PAL). These violate the provisions of the Rights of Person with Disabilities Act 2016 (RPWD 2016) that mandates non-discrimination and equality for all irrespective of the disability.

Like the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that allows the marriage to be dissolved if one of the partners has been suffering from an incurable form of leprosy. This is also true for the Muslim Marriage Act, Special Marriage Act 1954, to name a few. These enable the continued stigmatisation of people those affected by leprosy.

The Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003 disqualifies a leprosy patient from contesting civil polls. Even the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, bars someone infected with the disease from fighting the elections for the post of a panch or any other member of the institution.

India has 60% of new cases of leprosy every year. There are around 800 self-settled leprosy colonies. The NCPEDP has constituted a core group on leprosy which has moved a petition in the Supreme Court to declare these provisions as unconstitutional as they discriminate against persons affected by leprosy.

Late disability rights activist, and former NCPEDP director, Javed Abidi had first talked about the need for inclusion of persons affected leprosy within the disability rights movement. The Nippon Foundation has been supporting this movement in India.

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