After waging battle for years, activists have finally won in ensuring that India repeals the ‘discriminatory’ 1898 Indian lepers Act that sought to shun people afflicted with the crippling disease.
An official from the Union Health Ministry said that the Ministry of law and Justice has on May 9, 2016 issued a notification of the Repealing and Amending Act 2016 repealing 29 obsolete laws, including the lepers Act 1898 which discriminates against the people with leprosy.
The official said that the move follows recommendation from the law Commission of India seeking repeal of the obsolete law as it enforced compulsory segregation of leprosy patients. The Commission, which had worked with The leprosy Mission had recommended a fresh law to deal with the issue keeping in mind advances in medical sciences and changes in social thinking.
The measure is expected to give equal rights to those affected by leprosy. However, a lot more needs to be done, say the activists. There still exist several laws that continue to discriminate the disease which is surrounded with stigma and taboos.
The commission, in its 256th report speaks all. It noted that apart from social stigma, “Indian laws continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against persons affected by leprosy.”
Recommending amendments to Personal laws, the commission said under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the amended Indian Divorce Act, 1869, Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, leprosy affecting either spouse constitutes a ground for divorce, annulment of marriage or separation without forfeiture of maintenance. “One of the main objectives behind the inclusion of these provisions under the relevant legislations has been to restrain the spread of the infection of leprosy (given that it is a communicable disease) to the unaffected spouse,” it said.
It pointed out that leprosy is no longer an incurable disease and can be treated by MDT, which in its first dose itself kills 99.9 per cent of the leprosy bacillus and renders the infection non-contagious and non-virulent. The health official said that till such discrimination exists, all efforts to eliminate the disease will not yield expected results particularly when an intensive drive by the Centre has been launched to detect the cases for early treatment in leprosy affected districts across the country.