‘As the disease is curable, it is necessary to amend 16 Acts’

The draconian Indian Lepers Act, 1898 that sought to shun people afflicted with the disease, may have gone long ago but there are more than a dozen laws discriminating against them despite its being curable and non-contagious now.

Several petitions have been filed before the Centre, including the Rajya Sabha, seeking amendments to the discriminating clauses. A draft Bill for The Leprosy Affected Persons Welfare is also in circulation. It seeks to create a separate body for the welfare of leprosy affected people (LAP), on the lines of the Disability Commission, in addition to reservation in educational institutions and employment. There is also a provision for monthly pension for those unable to work.

Amendments have been sought to Section 56 of the Indian Railways Act 1989, which empowers the Railways to refuse to carry a person suffering from leprosy; Section 13 (IV) of the Hindu Marriage Act, Section 27 (1) (g) of the Special Marriage Act, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, the Indian Christian Marriage Act and the Indian Divorce Act, under which the spouse can seek separation if his/her partner is suffering from a “virulent and incurable form of leprosy.”

“There are misperceptions about leprosy and LAP. With the advancement of science, the disease is curable and non-contagious now. In this changed scenario, it is necessary to review and amend nearly 16 Acts,” Brahmdutt, president, Federation of Leprosy Organisations, told The Hindu.

“Leprosy affected persons are not allowed to get driving licence in Maharashtra due to certain discriminatory provisions.” Therefore, an amendment has been sought in the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation Act, 1980.

An amendment also has been proposed in the Life Insurance Corporation Act, in which people with infectious diseases are made to pay a higher premium; the Persons with Disabilities Act, the Industrial Disputes Act, the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act (Section 419), the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (Section 18), the Rehabilitation Council of India Act and the Prevention of Begging Act (in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka).

The now annulled Indian Lepers Act, enacted by the British, sought to segregate the affected persons by creating asylums at least 10 km away from main cities. The affected persons had no property rights or even marriage rights. It was repealed in 1985 after leprosy was declared curable with multidrug therapy (MDT).