At 56, Ramachandra* is starting a new life — a family life. After searching for 20 years, he finally found his life companion last month.

In a society that stigmatises against leprosy, that is not an unusually long time. Many afflicted with leprosy remain unmarried for life.

But Ramachandra — who was afflicted with leprosy at 16 — was lucky to find Narmada*, a widow with three children, who picks rags for a living and lives on the streets.

“I always wanted someone to be by me and searched for my partner for long. I got in touch with Narmada, who, too, had no family of hers.” After her husband passed away, she had to sell her house to marry her eldest daughter. For a living, Narmada collects scrap. She managed to find a guardian for her two children, and she took shelter in the streets, says Mr. Ramachandra.

But, as things would have it, Narmada turned to be an alcoholic as being thrown on the street from a decent life was too much to bear for her.

Before marriage Ramachandra wanted Narmada put an end to alcoholism: “I strictly told her to stop the habit if she is to marry me. She agreed and we got married,” Ramachandra says. The couple put up a spirited fight against her alcoholism. That she is from a different religion has never been issue for him.

The couple live in a house by Neeti-Preeti Trust in Kateel free of charge. And Narmada has brought back here daughter Soumya* and son Dinesh* to live with them, and they are getting the father’s love. While Dinesh goes to a primary school in Kateel, Soumya has dropped out and helps her mother in household work.

However, Rmachandra continues to fight against the social stigma associated with the disease. “After I was treated in Fr. Muller Hospital, I did not feel like going back to my home in Bidar. My own people stayed away from me, when I lost my toes and fingers to leprosy. Since then I decided to stay in Mangalore, where I am living in peace.

“I feel I am a normal (human being) in Mangalore. People don’t discriminate. But, people run away in my home town. I feel broken inside,” he says.

Judith Mascarenhas, former Deputy Mayor and a social worker associated with leprosy patients, including Ramachandra, says: “Soon after the treatment, I got him a job as a watchman. He is committed to his duty.” He is now a watchman for an apartment in Kadri.

(*Names changed to protect identities)

Soon after the treatment, I got him a job as a watchman. He is committed to his duty

Judith MascarenhasFormer Deputy Mayor

After I was treated, I did not feel like going home to Bidar where my own people stayed away from me

Ramachandra

Leprosy patient