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Center vows to fight to protect its patients

Church-run leprosy center faces closure by state

Patients at the Sumanahalli Society face an anxious wait Patients at the Sumanahalli Society face an anxious wait
  • Philip Mathew, Bangalore
  • India
  • October 3, 2012
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A church-run rehabilitation center for leprosy patients in southern India is facing closure.

The state government has announced a decision to take back all but two hectares of the Sumanahalli Society in Bangalare, the capital of Karnataka, where around 400 lepers receive education and health care.

The society responded by filing a petition in the Karnataka High Court in July. The first hearing will be in November.

Last week, Archbishop Bernard Moras spoke out against the state government’s proposal, saying the archdiocese would take all legal and democratic measures possible to make sure the land is retained.

“The decision to take away most of our land shows the apathy of the government to the most neglected groups in society. This is a betrayal of the community by the government,” he said.

The Karnataka High Court took exception to the archbishop’s comments.

"Has he become a legal expert? The archbishop has no business to speak on the issue,” said Chief Justice Vikramjit Sen.

Father George Kannanthanam, the society’s director, said that if they lose the case, they will appeal to the Supreme Court.

In 1977, the government leased the 25.5 hectare plot to the diocese for the treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, but the lease expired in 2008.

“We have been running from pillar to post to get it renewed,” said Fr. Kannanthanam. "We want the lease period to be extended for another 30 years, as it would be impossible to contain the activities of the campus in the two hectares the government is now offering."

The government’s decision to take away the land would force many of the patients back to the streets, said Suresh Kumar, president of the Karnataka Leprosy Affected People’s Association.

“I was chased out of my village and used to beg in trains before I was rescued by the center,” said Ramesh Babu, a 50-year-old patient who said he would have to go back to begging if the center closes.

Muralingappa, a 65-year-old leper who has been at the center since 1978, said, “People don’t accept us as normal human beings. At the center, lepers live a dignified life and feel secure. What will I do outside it?"
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