Volume 14-12 No:180
Rehabilitated leprosy patients at work in a leather unit
Should one be treated as a leper only because sometime in the past he or she was a leprosy patient?
But believe it or not, this is the case with those unfortunate Muslims who were affected by the disease, treated, got cured and are fit to return to the society as normally healthy persons. Yet they are not accepted by the society. They have nowhere to go except to find a home in the socially ostracized beggar colonies on the fringes of the towns and cities or stick around the leprosy treatment centers. The community does not think about them, let alone embrace or rehabilitate them or find for them an alliance or a decent source of livelihood. But they are luckier. Still worse is the plight of those whose children are consigned to live with them and ultimately fall victim to the disease.
A visit to Sumanahalli on the outskirts of Bangalore is instructive. The place was dedicated for setting up the Society for the Welfare and Rehabilitation of Leprosy Patients by former Karnataka chief minister Late Devraj Urs in 1978. A string of Christian organizations took up the challenge and began working for the rehabilitation of the leprosy patients who were earlier being banished out of towns and villages. Since then the Society has been instrumental in not merely curing, but training and rehabilitating virtually hundreds of leprosy patients. And several among them had been and are Muslims.
It was at a seminar at Bangalore’s Indian Social Institute (ISI) that social worker and training officer Sister Mary Mascarenhas had invited me to visit Sumanahalli, if nothing else, at least to assess how Muslim leprosy patients could be rehabilitated. What I learn is that the Muslim society reacts to the disease and the diseased with the same repulsion that is characteristic of the entire society.
Muslims still labour under the misbelief that leprosy is incurable, infectious and hereditary. The times have changed. Since 1983, the multi-drug therapy has brought the disease under the realm of cure. Moreover, it is only at a very late stage of the disease that limbs or face get deformed. Early detection ensures that a person retains the normal look. Secondly, only 2 to 3 per cent of the people get the disease due to contact with persons already afflicted with the disease. So, there is a case for educating the community against isolating the patients or separating his or her utensils. Thirdly, leprosy mainly attacks nerves and skin. Other organs get affected because of neglect of the early symptom and lack of treatment. But the real big challenge of the disease still remains unsaid. Leprosy is not merely a medical problem, but a social one. The greatest factor that deters the disease is social stigma. It is considered a divine curse for unpardonable sins. And the most effective way to challenge is not to isolate such patients.
I, who was scared to step into Sumanahalli was however amazed at the way Sister Mary tweaked the hair of a child inmate, hugged an old woman, a former patient who had no one back at home to accept her and patted the backs of many a former lepers engaged in making envelopes or clicking thick soles out of old tyres to be made into chappals.
A few cases of Muslim leprosy patients (names have been changed to protect privacy) could be further instructive for the readers of Islamic Voice:
* Raheem Basha from Sindhanur in Raichur is now 40. The early symptoms of leprosy were seen in him while he was 18. His utensils were marked and separated in his home. It was only some three years ago that he knew about the Sumanahalli Society and came here. By then his feet had deformed and face had developed wrinkles. However treatment saved his hands. He is now cured of the crippling disease. But his family won’t accept him. Sumanahalli is his home till he finds a job. Basha says he attends the Juma prayers in the nearby mosque but does not know whom to approach for a job.
* Nur Jan must be 70. She is from Neelsandra in Bangalore and is a mother of two daughters. She is a diminutive figure with dark appearance. As cure must have come late, Nur Jan has almost lost her hands and can barely walk with the rump of her feet. She is here to live out the rest of her life. Her two daughters occasionally drop in to see her, but are not willing to take her along.
* Rahmath Hussain from Chitradurga was thrown out of his home by his brother, a policeman, once he learnt that Hussain has leprosy. He came here in 1980. He was treated at the Society and trained. Now he works as a gardener in Kuruthukudi in Gadag district of Karnataka. He has married since then and has two healthy sons.
* Nawabjan came to Sumanahalli from an unknown town in North Karnataka some five years ago. He stayed here for five years, got cured, trained and was selected as a fourth grade employee by the Bangalore Development Authority(BDA). He found a match for himself and now lives happily as a healthy man in Nandini Layout.
While I see so much of effort from the Christian missionary workers towards these castaways of the society, the concern is conspicuous by absence among Muslims. They behave as if the problem does not exist within them. And still worse, some even believe that leprosy cannot affect anyone unless one has been divinely accursed. He must therefore stew in his own juice. How furious are we in raising the rhetoric that Islam is the religion of mustadafeen (the weak, the oppressed, the unfortunate) and how less we are seen in action when it is time to run to their rescue. Ponder for a moment where do we stand?
“When the intentions are pure, Almighty truly helps,” and one does not have to go far to see this. In the hustle and bustle of Bangalore, a mosque is quietly making a difference in the society with its efforts.
A few like- minded people with a vision for development in the community arrived on a common platform to form a Trust. They started functioning collectively under the aegis of Masjid-e-Minhaj Trust which has paved the way to progress in a small pocket of Muslims in Minhajnagar locality of the city. The Masjid-e-minhaj Trust formed in 1992 with the objective of working towards progress and development is making a slow, but steady progress. The Trust started functioning from a small make-shift mosque and today seems more organised to run its activities smoothly. The campus has a well-equipped library established last year in the name of Late Moulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi and has over 900 books, that include 700 books on theology and another 200 books on technical, medical and computer-related subjects. The Hazrat Umar hostel established in 1995 with 40 inmates comprises a mess facility for the comfort of the inmates.Though the Minhaj Trust has made a humble beginning, it has ambitious plans. Shortly it will commence work on expanding the hostel with two floors to the existing structure. The other projects in the pipeline are the establishment of a polyclinic with a diagnostic center, which is likely to start functioning in another six months, besides a cyber center and a computer training center. The residents of the locality have taken keen interest in the activities of the Trust.. Mohd Ansar a trustee confirms that they had tremendous response from the residents. Though the trust has depended on financial aid from various sources for its development, now they prefer to be self reliant.
“The trust has clearly defined objectives. We need to work harder while our community thinks that they can acquire benefits without efforts,” says treasurer of the Trust, Sajjad Ahmed.