If we told you there were a group of laws that discriminate against those with an illness, you’d probably think we were referring to the plague or some medieval process that’s long gone. It’s hard to believe that in the twenty first century people would be locked away or abandoned for having a disease that’s entirely treatable. Even after treatment, and when those affected are considered to be cured, this discrimination can still happen.

Unfortunately, when it comes to leprosy in India that has been the case.

Up until May of this year, there were 30 laws in India that discriminated against those with leprosy. One of those was the 1898 Indian Lepers Act which sanctioned the arrest and segregation of those affected by leprosy into “leper asylums.”

What did we do?

Given that multi-drug therapy has been given routinely across all of our projects since 1983, it’s hard to believe that it’s taken until now for this law to be repealed. We have supported activities, led by TLM India and the Law Commission, to see that these laws were replaced. Eradicating discriminatory laws in India and Bangladesh is extremely important to us because it helps to break down the stigma around neglected diseases.

This recent repeal is a small step towards that and a big victory that will contribute to challenging prejudicial attitudes many people have about leprosy. We recognise that repealing of legislation is not sufficient on its own but, without legislation encouraging people to treat those with a disease differently, more children, women and men may come forward for treatment. That should help us to provide people with diagnosis, treatment and care before permanent disability sets in.

What's next?

While there’s no doubt this is a win, there is still work to be done and several laws still active that continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against people affected by leprosy. It is crucial to eradicate all of these so that with it we can dispel the stigma and make leprosy a disease of little consequence.

We’ll be working with other agencies and associations of people with direct experience of leprosy in India, along with the Law Commission, lobbying for this to happen so that we can continue to challenge attitudes, tackle misconceptions and improve the lives of those affected by leprosy.