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The Supreme Court on Monday (December 4) issued a notice to the Centre seeking reply on the discrimination faced by leprosy patients. The Centre told to reply within eight weeks.

Hearing the PIL filed by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud asked the government to explain the existence of discriminatory laws pertaining to leprosy patients.

Appearing for petitioner, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran submitted that there are one hundred and nineteen laws that discriminate against leprosy patients and that these laws are violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

The petition says that the impugned provisions “institutionalize and perpetuate the humiliation and undignified treatment of persons affected by leprosy” and resultantly “violate their right to life and dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution”.

Leprosy patients, at present, are discriminated in many ways. Leprosy is considered to be an ‘incurable and virulent’ disease under the marriage laws of different religion. Being infected by leprosy for two years or more is a legitimate ground for divorce or separation between spouses. Under the state Beggary Acts, people affected by leprosy are treated in the same way as people suffering from lunacy. People suffering from leprosy can be arrested and detained for an unspecified duration. They are also denied to hold any public office.

The PIL states that the World Health Organisation explains that leprosy patients need not be treated in special clinics or hospitals; instead they can be treated along with people suffering from other diseases.

The petition also says that India has an international obligation to remove the stigma associated with leprosy and promote their social inclusion. India is a signatory to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and also a member of the UN General Assembly that had passed a resolution on the Elimination of Leprosy.

—India Legal Bureau

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