Could we be about to repeal all of India’s leprosy-related discriminatory laws?

25 October 2019

Could we be about to repeal all of India’s leprosy-related discriminatory laws?

Across the world there are around 136 laws that explicitly discriminate against people affected by leprosy. Of this number, 105 are in India. The Leprosy Mission in India, along with other stakeholders, is working with the Central and State Governments so that we can repeal these laws. We are optimistic that they might reach the goal of zero discriminatory laws by the end of 2020.

It has taken a lot to get to this point

In September, the Health Minister in India announced that he is seeking the repeal of all laws that discriminate against people affected by leprosy throughout India. This is a monumental step and, if achieved, would mean the country with the largest leprosy burden in the world will be one significant step closer to achieving equality before law for people affected by leprosy.

However, getting to this point has been a long journey and it would not have happened without The Leprosy Mission Trust India (TLMTI). Seven years ago, TLMTI’s Challenging Anti-Leprosy Legislation (CALL) project,  along with TLMTI’s Advocacy and Communication team, began to work with the Indian Government to look at these discriminatory laws. At the time they were aware of only a handful of these laws.

Thanks to dedicated researchers, The Leprosy Mission Trust India was able to identify a further 100 laws in states across India that are explicitly discriminating against people affected by leprosy. In the following years, our team have been working with the Law Commission of India, the Ministry of Health, the Law Minister, think tanks, organisations working on policy and parliamentarians to ensure that repealing these laws stays on the public agenda.

TLMTI’s efforts eventually revealed that there were 119 discriminatory laws across India and our efforts have already repealed 14 of those.

The remaining laws could all be gone by the end of 2020

Of the 105 discriminatory laws that remain, our hope is that they will all be repealed by the end of next year. Three of these laws are at the national level and it is hoped that a bill will be introduced  in the Indian Parliament during the winter session that will repeal these laws.

However, the remaining 100 discriminatory laws are spread across 25 of India’s 29 states and seven Union Territories. The Indian government has made repealing all of these laws a priority. Now TLMTI’s is working with local partners and the national government to reach out to each of these state governments. This will require a lot of effort and won’t be a quick task, but we hope that most of these laws will be repealed by the end of 2020.

Setting our sights beyond discriminatory laws

Our advocacy work in India is headed up by Nikita Sarah. Without our team and partners in India, these victories would not be in sight. Thanks to their hard work, we’re on the brink of a major victory for people affected by leprosy in India. However, they’ve got many more ambitions.

TLMTI’s advocacy and communication team is working on tackling transmission and eliminating discrimination through awareness campaigns and promoting the social inclusion of people affected by leprosy.

Their big ambition is to see people affected by leprosy become change agents and champions, not just at the state level, but with the national government and even at the global level.

With our teams and partners and other stakeholders working hard at this, the future for the human rights of people affected by leprosy in India looks much brighter.