Fifty-seven-year-old Vatsala Sangeet was affected with leprosy at the tender of age of four. Throughout her life,she faced the stigma attached to the disease. it was only much later when she left her hometown in Wardha and came to Pune that she started group for women affected with leprosy.
She empowered them by helping them earn a living through small businesses that she set up with a loan of Rs 10 lakh taken from the Indian Bank. So far,she has succeeded in rehabilitating 105 leprosy-affected women at Anandwan Leprosy Colony at Phugewadi.
Vatsala is among 10 women from different parts of the country who were felicitated by Vice President M Hamid Ansari for their dedication in empowering leprosy-affected persons,for setting an example for others,despite the challenges they must have faced.
Maya Ranaware from Kolhapur,Sita Devi from Bihar,Bhimbai Marathe from Bijapur,Karnataka,Basamma Devboor from Gulbarga,Karnataka,Nevis Mari from Madurai,Tamil Nadu,Sarita Martha from Orissa,Hira Bhandari from Indore in Madhya Pradesh,Parvatibai Premsinh from Ratlam,Madhya Pradesh and Kamlabai Chaundras from Alvasa in Madhya Pradesh were given the Kushtha Sevak Mahila Puraskar at a function organised by the International Leprosy Union Health Alliance at YASHADA on Wednesday.
Speaking to Newsline,Vatsala said she utilised the bank loan to set up wada pav centres in the city.
According to the International Leprosy Union (ILU),several self help groups (SHGs) have been formed across the country, atta chakkis installed by these affected people and goat rearing has even been encouraged by these women to help empower the affected people earn a living and live a decent life.
Speaking at the function,Ansari said the fight against leprosy has to be a collective effort of governments,NGOs,civil society organisations as well as citizens in collaboration with the ILU were praiseworthy. He said the work of rehabilitation started by Mahatma Phule and Mahatma Gandhi has not ended. People still have many misconceptions about this disease. It must be understood that leprosy is not Gods curse but an infectious disease just like any other and should be treated that way.
Lauding the efforts of ILU president and former Petroleum Minister who had in 2007 submitted a petition to Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions that visited the colonies of the affected persons and submitted recommendations in October 2008 and an Action Taken Report in November 2010 in this regard,Ansari assured him that initiative will be taken to expedite the implementation of an economic rehabilitation policy for the leprosy-affected persons.
The policy includes pension of Rs 2,000 per month to the affected persons and provision of civic amenities among others.
According to Naik,there are 700 such colonies,where about 2 lakh marginalised patients live. Pockets of endemicity still remain in India and according to Ansari,seven in every one lakh population are infected with leprosy.
Speaking at the felicitation function,Governor K Shankarnarayanan stressed on the importance of rehabilitation of these people,stating that it should be accorded high priority.
He also called upon banks to lend generously to such people. India is one of the few remaining countries with a high prevalence of leprosy cases,accounting for nearly 60 per cent of all new cases registered worldwide, he said.
While fighting the disease may have become easy with the arrival of Multi Drug Therapy,the tougher challenge is to fight the prejudices and stigma associated with leprosy and change the attitude of the society towards persons affected by leprosy and their family members,he added.
Also present on the occasion were retired judge and ILU patron Chandrsekhar Dhramadhikari and vice-president of ILU Ram Belvadi.