The busy road outside, right on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border, screams out that there is an election afoot. Flyers, posters, hoardings have been put up on electricity poles, walls and are littered on the ground. Often, about once in every 15 minutes, auto-rickshaws and Maruti Omni vans zip past, blaring out their allegiance and asking for votes. But for a small group of 1,000 homes in Tahirpur, only rarely does a campaign vehicle seem to enter their narrow lanes. And when they do, they don’t stop to ask what the people of the Leper Colony want — food, and lots of bandages.
Thirty-eight-year-old Selvam always wears a full sleeve shirt. He was afflicted by leprosy when he was very young. While he took medication, the affliction shows on his arms.
“I came here 16 years ago after my family asked me to leave. I was told that there was a place in Delhi where many who suffer from leprosy live. Here, I could marry, have two children and live in a community. But the road is another world, a normal world. They look down on people like us and don’t come here to campaign. Sometimes, volunteers will come, or a neta will come for two minutes, throw flowers at our temple and leave. They think they will get infected. I want them to ask us what we need. Dreams of employment, and good health are dreams too high for us. But at least help us treat ourselves,” he said.
Twice a day, Selvam opens a small room, sits inside and opens a large box of painkillers and ointments, and places a stool at the door. “Most here have worse ‘injuries’ than I have. The bandages we get are from donors. I trained as a nurse till someone saw my sleeves rolled up. I treat 500 people every day. But we need help,” he said.
Over the years, the Leprosy Colony in Tahirpur has grown to several thousand people in 28 separate camps, and many here have voting cards. Their vote is always in hope of change — that they will be acknowledged. Most refuse to speak about what they want, used to years of conversations being restricted to those that suffer their ailment. But one man, who was born before “India was independent”, says all they want is “dignity.”
“Don’t ask how old I am, because I don’t remember. But I know what we want — we should get pension and food at subsidised rates because we are not allowed to earn except by begging. Our children should not be turned away at hospitals or at government offices. The government give our youth jobs, because even if we are physically unfit, we still have our intelligence. But most of all, we want parties to ask us what we want,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines