Harold Jaffe’s Dispatches from India – November 13, 2015

Leper

Every Diwali (one of India’s major holidays comparable to Xmas),
Bhupendra Mahapatra and eight other residents of his colony knock
on people’s doors in the early morning hoping to get alms.

It is a familiar exercise for these and more residents of Premnagar
Kushtrogi Kalyan Samiti, who formerly suffered from leprosy.

They visit virtually every house in their locality with cymbals and a
drum, chanting to Lord Rama for the prosperity of those who give
them alms.

The survivors complain that though they are cured of leprosy and
are no longer contagious they are still marginalized and suffer
discrimination.

They are refused jobs and are rejected by mainstream society.

The leper survivors claim they would celebrate Diwali whole-
heartedly the day they were admitted into the culture that other
Indians routinely inhabit.

Mahapatra concedes that even though he has been cured of leprosy
his spinal nerves have been damaged and his fingers are disfigured.

The survivors who accompany him have suffered similar damage.

Some people give us food or sweets, we accept their gifts and pray
for their prosperity, said Bairagi Bora, another member of the group.

Approximately 85 leprosy survivors live in Premnagar Kushtrogi
Kalyan Samitiu, previously segregated as a leper colony.

It is located more or less halfway between Kashi and Sarnath,
where the compassionate Buddha was reported to have preached
his first sermon after becoming enlightened.

I don’t want to beg, said Mahapatra, but people refuse to accept us.
Just because we suffered from this disease we are forced to live like
beggars.

Each of the cured lepers bears marks of the disease; some have
gone blind, others have lost partial control of their facial muscles,
have bent spines, or disfigured fingers and limbs.

People stare at our marks and make faces, said Bairagi Bora. Even
though I no longer suffer from the disease people insist on viewing
me as a leper, he complained, displaying a discolored claw-like left
hand.

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