Lok Sabha Bill to Remove Leprosy as a Ground for Divorce

by | Mon Apr 08 2019

The Lower House of the Parliament on January 7th, 2019 passed a legislation seeking to remove leprosy as a ground for divorce, a part of the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill of 2018. 

"Leprosy is being removed as a ground for divorce as it is now a curable disease as against the earlier notion of it being incurable," stated P.P Chaudary, the Minister of State for Law. In accordance with the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Dissolution of Muslims Marriage Act and Divorce Act amongst others, a partner suffering from leprosy would have been considered as grounds sufficient for petitioning for divorce. 

The Bill was passed to remove the stigmatisation of leprosy patients and it is considered discriminatory to seek divorce on the grounds of a disease the affliction of which is not in one’s control. In addition to this, India’s statutory membership of the UN compels its allegiance to curb the discrimination against people suffering from leprosy. The international organisation deemed it to be a human rights issue, and mandate its signatory countries to curtail this discrimination with significant punishments and penalties awarded for the violators. The Human Rights Council of the UN tends to achieve this through prescribed principles and guidelines that have been implemented like the equal and dignified treatment that has to be dispensed to the patients and their family members amongst others. The council has compelled the nation-states to protect and promote the complete acknowledgment of fundamental rights and privileges of these patients in various social, economic and political spheres. They must also ensure that they have equitable access to affordable healthcare facilities, educational incentives and assure indiscriminate entry into public places. 

According to the report by the Central Leprosy Division in New Delhi, in 2011 there were as many as 0.83 lakh leprosy cases in India, and 8 years later there hasn’t been a significant change in the numbers. The National Leprosy Eradication Programme was launched in 1983, and the large and significant reduction of the leprosy rates since then can be attributed to this programme. They also aim to provide quality treatment and rehabilitation to the patients, advocate social awareness about the disease, and promote equitable treatment and opportunities which are necessary to lead a life of dignity. There are several preventive measures that have been undertaken in this scheme with specific consideration given to rural areas. 

In 2014, the Supreme Court had asked the Union government to take necessary steps to promote the inclusion of the leprosy patients into the mainstream and also work towards the steady eradication of the disease from India. In the 2017 budgetary session, Financial Minister Arun Jaitley had assured the elimination of the disease from the country by 2018.

The Personal Laws amendment Bill of 2018 which was enacted in the Parliament amended the Divorce Act, 1869 and other marriage related legislations that allowed divorce to be granted on the grounds of leprosy. The objectives and reasons stated by the proposed Bill aim specifically at the social inclusion of the diseased, and to foster their collective integration into society. “Leprosy patients were isolated and segregated from society as the leprosy was not curable and the society was hostile to them. However, as a result of intensive healthcare and availability of modern medicine to cure the disease, the attitude of the society towards them began to change. The discriminatory provisions contained in various statutes against the persons affected with leprosy were made prior to the medical advancements rendering leprosy a curable disease. Presently, leprosy is completely curable and can be treated with multi-drug therapy. However, old legislative provisions discriminating the persons affected by leprosy continued in various laws,” the Bill stated. 

Signed by law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Bill further reiterates the resolution of the UNHRC, and how India is striving to achieve these objectives with the amendment to the marriage laws being the first step. These are a result of the recommendations by the Law Commission, according mandates by the Supreme Court with due consideration given to the commandments of the National Human Rights Commission and other democratic bodies. 


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