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Discriminatory laws in India challenged 30th April, 2018

Laws from the British Raj in India to be repealed to protect the rights of people affected by leprosy

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During the British Raj in India, numerous laws were introduced that isolated and discriminated against people affected by leprosy. In December, a Private Members’ Bill on the issue of leprosy was introduced in India’s Parliament by Mr K.T.S. Tulsi MP to repeal discriminatory legislation and enshrine in law the rights of people affected by the disease.

This momentous Bill addresses the crucial issue of discrimination and exclusion of persons affected by leprosy and of their family members on the grounds of leprosy. Nearly 30 years on from the discovery of a cure for leprosy, discrimination against people affected by it continues in India in both law and practice.

India has over half of the world’s leprosy cases and there are 119 known laws in India, including civil and criminal, that discriminate against people affected by leprosy on sole grounds of the disease. These include leprosy as grounds for divorce; being barred from political or civic posts; not being entitled to certain benefits; the threat of arrest for begging, and laws allowing segregation from family and friends.

Recently, discriminatory practices of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), were exposed in the Supreme Court of India. DMRC was told by the Supreme Court that it was unacceptable for the Corporation to insist that leprosy sufferers could only travel by train if they carried a medical certificate stating the disease was non-contagious. 

The Chief Justices stated that: “When no one is disputing the curability of leprosy, the Centre and states must remove the offensive legal provision discriminating against leprosy patients. The condition imposed by DMRC is unacceptable.” Which is a great victory for people-affected by leprosy.

The Bill introduced in December aims to address deep-rooted stigma and discrimination, such as the practices of DMRC, and its negative impact on the social, economic and cultural lives of people affected by leprosy and members of their families. The Bill also provides for welfare measures for achieving their holistic development and inclusion.

Mr K.T.S. Tulsi’s office worked in close coordination with The Leprosy Mission Trust India (TLMTI) in drafting the present Bill. TLM is the largest leprosy-focused, non-governmental organisation in India, operating in nine states and has been campaigning for changes to the law for many years. 

You can make your voice heard by signing the United4Change petition, an initiative of several global leprosy organisations, including TLM Trust India: www.united4change.in/

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