Karnataka: Hansenites in Church-run center face uncertain future

October 6, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Hansenites in church-run center face uncertain future

Leprosy patients at Sumanahalli society

Banglore, October 3, 2012: The inmates at the center are concerned over the state government’s recent decision to take away most of its land.

A church-run rehabilitation center for leprosy patients in southern India is facing possible closure, putting into uncertainty the future of its 400 inmates.

“I was chased out of my village and used to beg in trains before I was rescued by the center. I was treated, educated and trained by the people here,” said Ramesh Babu, a 50-year-old patient living in the Sumanahalli Society in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka.

Babu said that he would have to go back to begging again if the society is closed. The inmates at the center are concerned over the state government’s recent decision to take away most of its land.

Sumanahalli, which means village of good-hearted people, was started in 1978 after the state requested the Christian community to take care of leprosy-affected people as the government agencies were not able to provide the kind of care they require.

The Bangalore archdiocese-run society is directed by Claretian Father George Kannanthanam. The government had given 63 acres of land on lease in 1977 to the archdiocese to treat and rehabilitate leprosy patients.

The lease expired in 2008 and since then, “we have been running from pillar to post to get it renewed,” said Father Kannanthanam.

He said that they want the lease period to be extended for another 30 years. The government, however, wants to limit the extension of the lease to 5 acres and take back the rest.

Fr. Kannanthanam said it was impossible to contain the activities of the campus to five acres, that has about 50 buildings to cater to the medical, educational and rehabilitation needs of the patients.

Suresh Kumar, president of the Karnataka Leprosy Affected People’s Association, said that the government’s decision to take away the land would force many of the inmates back to streets.

“There is a stigma attached to leprosy patients in the country and so their families would not accept them, leaving them with only one option to beg,” Kumar said.

Muralingappa (goes by one name), 65, said they live a dignified life and feel secure in the society. “I am living in the center since 1978. What will I do outside it. People don’t accept us as normal human beings,” he said.

Venkatesh (goes by one name), 40, another inmate, said he would do anything to safeguard Sumanahalli. “For me Sumanahalli is my home, my village and everything. My children get education here. I am given an auto for my livelihood. My family is given a house here. I can’t survive anywhere without the society,” Venkatesh, who has been living in the center for the last 10 years, said.

The issue gathered limelight last week with Archbishop Bernard Moras coming out openly against the state government. The prelate said the archdiocese would take up all legal and democratic measures to make sure that the land is retained for the purpose of the care and rehabilitation of the destitute people.

“The decision to take away most of our land shows the apathy of the government to the most neglected groups in the society. This is a betrayal of the community by the Government,” he said.

However, the Karnataka High Court expressed its displeasure over the archbishop’s comments as the matter was pending in the court.

“Has he (archbishop) become a legal expert? Shall we issue contempt (notice)? The archbishop has no business to speak on the (pending) issue,” said chief justice Vikramjit Sen.

The Sumanahalli management has also given representations to the state Human Rights Commission and governor Hansraj Bhardwaj. On September 24, hundreds of people, including leprosy patients, demonstrated in the city against the state government’s decision.

– ucan

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