AMENDMENT IN PERSONAL LAWS-LEPROSY
“eliminating leprosy is the only work I have not been able to complete in my lifetime”- Gandhi.
AN ANECDOTE FROM HIS LIFE,
“Gandhi ji had a lifelong compassion for people affected by leprosy. He had known people affected by leprosy since he was a young child. When Gandhi ji was in Yeravada prison, he asked the Superintendent whether he could meet Parchure Shastri, was a person affected by leprosy, who was imprisoned in the Yeravada leprosarium for political reasons. Although the prison laws forbade them meeting in person, they were able to correspond by letter. Later at his Monastery at Sevagram, Gandhi ji with concurrence from his peers, having taken into consideration the many residents who lived with him, built a separate cottage for parchure, where he would personally nurse his wounds and supervise his diet. This made Gandhi ji interested in studying causes of leprosy. Later parchure when sufficiently cured, restored back to health was able to assist at marriage ceremonies, at Gandhi ji’s request. Gandhi ji continued to nurse and host people affected by leprosy at his home. He had actively embraced inclusive principles and rejected the stigmatisation of leprosy”.
Leprosy omitted as a ground for divorce anymore, towards which the personal laws were amended on the 21st February, 2019. The Government of India has notified the Personal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019. The Act omits Leprosy as a ground for divorce from various statutes governing marriage in India.
The following are the statutes and the respective provisions deleted:
1. Divorce Act, 1869 – In section 10, Sub-section (1), clause (iv) is omitted.
2. Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939 – Section 2, in ground (vi), the words “leprosy or” is omitted.
3. Special Marriage Act, 1954 – in section 27, in sub-section (1), clause (g) is omitted.
4. Hindu Marriages Act. 1955 –in section 13, in sub-section (1), clause (iv) is omitted
5. Hindu adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, - section 18, in sub-section (2), clause is (c) omitted.
The first attempt towards eliminating the bias was perpetuated by Indian Laws against people suffering from the disease was made in 2008, when the National Human Rights Commission recommended amendments in certain personal laws and other legislations. There was a day-long workshop seminar at Delhi by the National Human Rights Commission in the year April 2015, which wanted provisions in law which violated rights of leprosy-affected persons, removed. In that Workshop Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said, “there were discriminatory provisions in the law which violate rights of leprosy-affected persons. Under section 13 (iv) of the Hindu Marriages Act, 1955, if one party has been suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy, it becomes one of the grounds for divorce. Under Section 18(2)(c) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, if a person is suffering from a virulent form of leprosy, his wife is entitled to live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim to maintenance. There are similar provisions in other personal laws which need amendment to prevent discrimination”.
In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution on the “Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members”. It was signed and ratified by India. Subsequently the Law Commission of India in its 256th Report recommended the elimination of discrimination against people affected by leprosy. Which read as follows, “In 2014, India had the largest number of new Leprosy cases globally, 58%. From 2005 to 2014 the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) recorded a rate of 1.25 to 1.35 lakh new cases every year. A majority of these are children, who are threatened with isolation and discrimination at a young age”.
“Although leprosy may cause irreversible disabilities, with medical advances, it is now a completely curable disease. However, a major obstacle is the social stigma associated with Leprosy and many other persons affected by Leprosy continue to be outcast from society. Another problem is, that of Indian Laws, which continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against persons affected by Leprosy.
Later the Law Commission prepared a model draft legislation titled, “Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy (EDPAL) Bill, 2015. This draft law contains principles of non-discrimination and equal protection before law that must be guaranteed to all persons affected by Leprosy or members of their family. It also seeks to promote the social inclusion of persons affected by Leprosy and their family members through affirmative action”. The key aspects of the draft are as follows recorded very crisply here,
· Repeal and amendment of certain laws, Repeal of the Lepers Act, 1898, repeal of discriminatory provisions in various personal laws. It also recommended including persons affected by Leprosy among the list of persons eligible for legal aid under the Legal Services Act, 1987.
· Measures against discrimination, the persons affected by leprosy and their family members are not to be discriminated against in any institution. The affected people should be guaranteed to access healthcare, adequate housing, education, employment and other such basic amenities.
· Land Rights, persons affected by leprosy are usually made to relocate to “Leprosy Colonies” in India. But, they do not have land rights and are constantly under fear of eviction. The Law Commission recommended that the title and ownership of property in Leprosy colonies should be legalised and if land rights cannot be given, alternative settlement options must be explored.
· Right to employment, many employers misused existing employment laws to terminate services of persons who are diagnosed with Leprosy. The draft law prohibits the termination of employment of such persons solely due to their association with leprosy.
· Educational and training opportunities, the draft law should ensure admission of persons affected by Leprosy and their family members in to schools, colleges and other institutions, as educational qualifications are necessary to allow them to access to employment opportunities.
· Appropriate use of language, the use of the term “leper” and similar terms carries negative connotation, hampers efforts for the inclusion of persons affected by leprosy into society, affects their sense of dignity as human beings. The Law Commission recommended, that the term “leper” and such terms in all Government and private documents should be replaced with “persons affected by Leprosy” or a similar term.
· Right to freedom and movement, the draft law ensures that persons affected by Leprosy are guaranteed the right to travel in public transport and the right to obtain a driving license.
· Concessions during treatment, the draft law sought to provide relevant concessions and monetary benefits to persons affected by Leprosy who are undergoing treatment for their travel, lodging during treatment and medicines.
· Social awareness, creating awareness regarding the cure and transmission of Leprosy is the best way to address the discrimination and stigma against persons affected by Leprosy and their family. The Law Commission recommended that awareness about the disease, its treatment and curability should be conducted through campaigns and programmes in schools, hospitals, government institutions and private establishments.
· Welfare measures, the draft law imposed specific duties upon establishments to execute certain welfare measures to foster an environment for financial and social growth of persons affected by Leprosy and their families. It also created Central and State Commissions to strictly enforce such measures, provides for accountability measures in case of non-enforcement.
More recently, the Supreme Court issued a slew of directions, to the Central and State Governments in order to spread awareness about Leprosy. The judgement also contained directions to facilitate a life of equality and dignity for those affected by the disease. The PIL filed by Vidhi Centre for legal policy averred that at least 119 statutes (both Central and State) discriminate against patients affected by the disease and that the same violate the fundamental rights under the Constitution.
Leprosy known as Hansen’s disease is a chronic infectious disease caused by MYCOBACTERIUM LEPRAE. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Leprosy is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age. Leprosy is curable and early treatment averts most disabilities. The exact transmission of leprosy is not known. At least until recently, the most widely held belief was that the disease was transmitted by contact between cases of leprosy and healthy persons. But in the recent times, the possibility of transmission by the respiratory route is gaining ground. There are also other possibilities such as transmission through insects which cannot be completely ruled out.
Sign and symptoms, clinical signs are easy to observe. In a country or area with a high incidence of leprosy, an individual should be regarded as having leprosy if he or she shows one of the following cardinal signs:
1. Skin lesion consistent with leprosy and with definite sensory loss with or without thickened nerves.
2. Positive skin smears.
Leprosy can be classified on the basis of clinical manifestations and skin smear results. In the classification based on skin smears, patients showing negative smears at all sites are said to have PAUCIBACILLARY LEPROSY (PB), while those showing positive smears at any site are said to have MULTIBACILLARY LEPROSY (MB).
VIJAYASHREE RAMESH, CHENNAI BASED ADVOCATE.