Even though India has achieved the World Health Organisation's (WHO) elimination level for leprosy, the social stigma associated with the disease is still prevalent, Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama has said.
"This is a physical condition like any other and people should not look down upon others. All human beings are equal and capable. Discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or any other condition is a sinful act," the Dalai Lama said during a visit to the Tahirpur Leprosy Complex here.
The purpose of the visit was to boost the morales of leprosy patients and their families and help people overcome their prejudice against the affected.
In 2005, a total of 1,34,752 cases were reported in India and new cases of leprosy were reported which was 58 per cent of the cases reported world-wide. The leading states where new cases were reported are Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
"People who spend money on luxury are foolish. They should spend money for the needy. If you believe in God or Buddhism and spend your money on the needy you will accumulate good Karma," said the spiritual leader.
He pledged his help for leprosy-affected people and promised to donate Rs 10 lakh to the Kasturba Gram Kusht Ashram, Leprosy Complex in Tahirpur in Delhi.
Over the next five years, royalties received by the trust from the sale of the books written by the spiritual leader will be donated to the Ashram.
"A smiling man is always better than a rich and healthy man; because a smiling man has the confidence in him to smile and be happy in life," the spiritual leader said.
Leprosy, one of the oldest known diseases to mankind, is quite prevalent in India.
However, through the efforts of individuals and various organisations, like Nippon Foundation, the eradication of the disease is not such a distant dream.
"If the brain is functioning then the physical condition does not matter as, with your brain, you can solve problems and achieve a lot in life.
"So, if your brain is functioning, you have the confidence which makes you smile," he said.
From April, 2012, to March, 2013, 1.35 lakh new cases of leprosy were reported in the country, which gives an Annual New Case Detection Rate (ANCDR) of 10.78 per cent for every 100,000 population, an increase of 4.15 per cent over 2011-12, a National Leprosy Eradication Programme 2012-13 survey has found.
In Delhi, 1,252 new cases were detected in 2012-2013, the report said.
"Thanks to the (central) and the state governments, we have been able to control the situation in India. We are visiting various states to bring the cases of leprosy down from where we are currently at," said Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Elimination of Leprosy.
In India, there are about 850 colonies of which 31 are in Delhi. Serious human rights violations such as lack of education, employment opportunities, health facilities and basic amenities are reported in these colonies.
"Our colonies face problems due to absence of basic amenities like proper sewage systems, street lighting. Neither are the homes which we stay in registered in our name. So, some day, government might throw out our families from here after we die. We have informed the government about our problems, but that has fallen on deaf ears," said Venu Gopal, a resident of Kasturba Gram Kusht Ashram.
"According to government's survey in 1981, 2,600 leprosy- affected people were getting pension. Now, only 700 people are getting pension.
"New patients of leprosy are not on the list as the survey has not been done. Former chief minister Sheila Dixit had in 2006 promised that a new survey will be done for leprosy- affected people, but nothing has been done yet," charged Giridhar Lal, in-charge of Hari Om Kusht Colony.