New Delhi: Disabled People's International (DPI), a network of disability rights organisations, will now include people with leprosy in their disability rights movement to ensure better protection of their rights and their integration in the mainstream.
"Leper colonies are a blot on India. We have to get rid of the social stigma and exclusion faced by these people. We don't want them to suffer silently without any social protection. Leprosy needs to be tackled like other disabilities and not neglected," said Javed Abidi, Global Chair of Disabled People's International.
There are many archaic laws in the country that can be used against leprosy-affected people, on basis of which they can be divorced, denied property, driving license and even train travel, Abidi claimed.
Disability rights organisations will take up these issues as part of their advocacy efforts in the coming year, he said.
While leprosy is completely curable when diagnosed early, people are afflicted by the disease in varying degrees and their exclusion only prevents them from getting proper cure and rehabilitation, Abidi said.
While studies suggest that community-based rehabilitation is effective in addressing problems of such people, Indian laws ignore these facts, and often don't let them be integrated into mainstream, he said.
"Our laws are not conducive for mainstreaming or rehabilitating people affected by leprosy. We therefore want to include this side-lined community into the disability rights movement in India," he added.
Even though India has achieved its goal of eliminating leprosy in 2005 (0.95/10,000 population), it still records one of the highest occurrences of leprosy, constituting more than 50 per cent of people affected by the chronic infection round the globe.
Earlier this year, DPI in collaboration with The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) undertook an initiative to include the voices of people affected by leprosy in the global disability movement.