Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Discriminatory Laws on Leprosy Need Amendment

PUNE, India: 19th August 2009 (Times of India) - Leprosy, which has blighted mankind for thousands of years, is still far from being wiped out from the social psyche even though the disease is completely curable now. Even today, there are several laws that continue to discriminate against the leprosy affected people. The International Leprosy Union Alliance (HA) here has identified 16 such acts and filed a petition to the 'Parliament petition committee' (PPC) recently. "The ILU-HA has formed a committee to discuss the discriminatory laws against leprosy-affected people," said Rashmi Shirhatti, chief executive of ILU-HA . There may be more such acts but the PPC has assured us that they will focus on these 16 acts, where the leprosy-affected persons feel hardship and injustice."

Elaborating on some of these acts, Shirhatti said that the Indian Railways Act of 1869, section 56 gives the railway authorities the power to refuse carriage to patients suffering from contagious diseases. "Leprosy is the least infectious and is not at all contagious. The act is discriminatory," said Shirhatti. Similarly, the Care and Protection Act 2000 says a child found to be affected by leprosy should be dealt with separately. "The committee has proposed an amendment to the effect that such a child should not be segregated, except when undergoing an infectious stage as certified by a medical practitioner," said Shirhatti.

The Life Insurance Corporation Act of 1956, which specifies a higher premium to the leprosy-affected, ought to be amended as "it unnecessarily penalises patients and perpetuates an unscientific fear of leprosy," said Shirhatti. Changes have been sought in the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947; Council of India Act, 1992; Persons with Disabilities Act, 1955; Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 and The Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, Shirhatti said. "Be it the Special Marriage Act, Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1956 or the India Divorce Act, 1869, all have provisions for divorce on the grounds of a partner suffering from incurable and virulent leprosy, whereas leprosy is a curable disease now," "The laws were framed when leprosy was considered incurable. Now, it's curable. Hence there is a need to amend these laws," said Ashok Laddha, joint director (leprosy and TB).
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