On 1 August The Union Cabinet, India’s highest decision-making body, approved a Bill that disallows leprosy to be grounds for divorce.
The decision is a direct result of the advocacy work of many different stakeholders, including The Leprosy Mission India, who have been lobbying for the repeal of laws that discriminate against leprosy-affected people for many years.
People affected by leprosy have, until now, been equated with those experiencing mental illness under several Marriage Acts and the Indian Divorce Act which has entitled those married to someone diagnosed with leprosy to divorce them easily.
Union Minister for Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said: “In the past, we have seen that leprosy patients have been victimised. If you were a leprosy patient, divorce could be granted (to your spouse). We have taken a decision that was long overdue. We are going to grant dignity to leprosy patients.”
There is, however, still a long way to go. 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 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.
The Cabinet in its decision has also taken note of the Indian Law Commission which had submitted a report along with the draft bill to repeal discriminatory provisions in some of the legislations in force and also highlighted the fact that India has an obligation to implement the Principles and Guidelines for elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution which TLM has been advocating globally.
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/