Speech at the time of inauguration of Kushta Rogi Ashram, Jabalpur, dated 6-10-1985
You have taken up the responsibility of rehabilitating our brothers and sisters suffering from leprosy under the auspices of the Red Cross. With your blessings, I have laid the stone for a building which is to shelter our friends. However, not only a good building, but complete rehabilitation is what we have to provide for them. Many of them have no place to sleep. They take to begging because they do not have any other means of livelihood. I am sure, they do not like to depend upon others. If they can stand on their own feet and live on their own, they will have the same self-respect which everyone of us has. The main obstacles in their proper rehabilitation are the superstition and the stigma attached to leprosy. It isolates them from the rest of the people; who avoid them. I am told by doctors that nearly 80% leprosy patients are not infectious at all. Even the remaining 20% of cases, if treatment is started early cease to be infectious. If one can live with those suffering from T. B., cholera or other infectious diseases, why can’t one live with people who are not infectious? It was to answer this question that on Gandhi Jayanti this year as well as last year I invited to the Raj Bhavan some of our brothers and sisters who are patients of leprosy to tea with my family. I should like this example to be emulated all over the country.
What we have to do is to make them self-reliant, Can we do that? You have started the construction of a shelter for them. Along with this, I would suggest, that the various departments of the Government as well as voluntary organisations should together coordinate their various
welfare programmes to give our friends continued work and employment. We have a number of programmes like IRDP, NREDP, apart from programmes for the aged and the handicapped. A harmonious coordination of these programmes can usher in new hope and happines for all those leprosy patients.
At a place, I visited recently, social forestry scheme in a limited area was entrusted to leprosy patients. I found to my surprise that there were more than 90% survivals of the total trees planted. All my friends in the Forest Department are well aware of the rate of survival in social forestry plantations. The cost-benefit implications of this experiment can apply to most of the programmes. I would, therefore, suggest that all of us, officials as well as non-officials should sit together taking it as one social responsibility and pool together all our resources and programmes to utilise them in the service of these unfortunate people so as to make them stand on their own feet.
Let us hope that by fuller utilisation of all our resources, a life full of hope will be brought early into this community of our brothers and sisters whose life is now full of misery. We have to lead them from this life of suffering and despair into a life of hope and happiness. That is the challenge before us. I am sure you are capable of taking it up. With this hope I once again commit the whole problem of our brothers and sisters to your care.