Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy
The Law Commission of India, under the chairmanship of Justice A.P. Shah, submitted its report Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy to D. V. Sadananda Gowda (the then Minister of Law and Justice) on April 7, 2015.
The Commission notes the need to modify and repeal existing laws, regulations, policies, customs and practices that negatively affect persons with leprosy, and promote excluding, segregating and discriminating against them. This report aims to give the government detailed insights on the discrimination and stigma associated with leprosy, and recommends a new law to eliminate such practices.
report’s seven chapters include an introduction (Chapter I); a discussion on the
status of persons with leprosy in India (Chapter II); attempts made by
individuals and the government to address the concerns of such persons (Chapter
III); laws on leprosy (Chapter IV); international efforts to address the concerns
of persons affected by leprosy and their families (Chapter V); jurisdictions on
persons with leprosy in India (Chapter VI); and the Commission’s
recommendations (Chapter VII).
report’s annexure contains a draft bill – Eliminating Discrimination Against
Persons Affected by Leprosy Bill, 2015.
Leprosy is caused by mycobacterium leprae, a bacillus which was discovered in 1873 by Gerhard Armauer Hansen, a Norwegian doctor. When untreated, a person with leprosy can spread the infection through the air. The report notes that over 85 per cent of leprosy affected persons are ‘non-infectious’ and do not pass on the disease, and over 99 per cent of the world’s population has a natural immunity or resistance to leprosy.
Leprosy is a completely curable disease, observes the report, and it can be rendered non-infectious in the initial stages of treatment. A ‘multi-drug therapy’ (MDT), first recommended in the 1980s by the World Health Organisation, is used to cure leprosy. MDT involves administering a combination of drugs such as rifampicin, clofazimine and dapsone. The report states that MDT has substantially reduced the incidence of leprosy in India.
As of 2014, India accounted for 58 per cent of all the new leprosy cases globally – the report notes, citing the Annual Report (2013) of the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, UK.
Social stigma is a major obstacle in uplifting the status of leprosy affected persons. Those in the early stages of the disease are dissuaded from approaching a doctor due to the fear of isolation and ostracism. The report states that the main reason for the stigma against leprosy is its ‘disabling and disfiguring’ nature, which goes against the ‘aesthetic notion of physical beauty’ prevalent in society. As there was little knowledge on the causes of, and cure for, leprosy for many decades, persons affected by the disease were viewed as objects of ‘divine punishment’ in several societies.
The report mentions Murlidhar Devidas Amte or Baba Amte – an Indian social activist born in 1914 – who helped rehabilitate and treat people affected by leprosy throughout his life. He set up 11 ‘weekly clinics’ in Warora tehsil, Chandrapur district, Maharashtra, and in 1951 established the Anandwan ashram for persons with leprosy. The report says that more than 5,000 people live and earn livelihoods in Anandwan.
Certain provisions under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the Indian Divorce Act, 1869, the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, discriminate against persons affected by leprosy. Under these laws, having leprosy for two years is as a legitimate ground for divorce or separation between spouses.
India is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the United nations General Assembly in 2007. The Convention, states the report, “…promotes, protects and ensures the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities."
Persons with leprosy and their families should be treated with dignity and they should be considered equal to all other members of society, the report observes. This is provided for by several treaties adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966).
Focus and Factoids by Mahima Philips.
Law Commission of India, Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
07 Apr, 2015