The Government of India on 21.02.2019 amending the personal laws namely the Divorce Act, 1869, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 and declared that leprosy cannot be a ground for divorce.

Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection which primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, the skin, the lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract and was contagious. “Leprosy patients were isolated and segregated from society as the leprosy was not curable and the society was hostile to the patients but with modern medicine having changed that, the attitude of the society towards them began to change. Presently, leprosy is completely curable and can be treated with multidrug therapy”.

The amendment came as a response to the constant endeavours of the Human Rights Commission who advocated that leprosy as a ground for divorce is a “discriminatory” provision and such an archaic law should be amended. National Human Rights Commission first put forth the suggestion in 2008 that these changes be made. Following this, in 2010, India signed the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution titled ‘Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.’ It sought to reduce stigma and discrimination faced by the victims of leprosy.

The Act is in consonance of judgment rendered by the Supreme Court in the case of Pankaj Sinhala v. Union of India & Ors 2014, issuing directions for treatment and rehabilitation of those affected by leprosy, while also ensuring that the discrimination against them and their family members is eliminated completely.

The Court ordered that the Central Government and the State Government must organize seminars at all levels where there is probability to hear the views and experience directly from the former patients and their families as well as doctors, social workers and non-government originations. The Apex Court further directed that neither the private nor the Government schools shall discriminate against children who suffer from leprosy. Leprosy should definitely not be a ground to deny free education.

This is definitely a positive step taken by the Government, which ends discrimination that is based on stigma and misunderstanding of leprosy. This step has been hailed as a positive effort to reduce discrimination surrounding leprosy and hence an end to archaic laws which are not in tone with the dynamic society.


Suchit Patel


The Indian Lawyer

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