Leprosy is one of the most denominated well-known diseases in our nation. The individuals affected by this curse have to suffer on many aspects such as prejudicial treatment, non-acceptance, and loss of a job which directly affects the mental well-being of the persons suffering from it, the consequences of which are in the form of losing self-respect, recognition in the society. The long-term effects of this ailment are seen in the form of anxiety, dejection, emotional turmoil or sometimes in extreme cases the person tries to commit suicide. In a study, it was found that persons who got recovered from leprosy were still suffering from social and psychological difficulties because the stigma does not easily go from the inner conscience.
A very important aspect of social-psychological is that it aggravates marital relationships. If the disease surfaces in husband or wife after marriage then any of them starts feeling inferior and avoids socializing as the individual who physically well starts treating the other suffering from leprosy as unequal which directly leads to divorce or end of the marital relationship.
Leprosy is an ailment caused mainly by mycobacterium. This disease affects particularly skin and outer nerves. It is identified by the emergence of buds or smudges that expand and transmits followed with losing eyesight, the formation of deformities, and wasting of muscle. Leprosy gets spread from the infected person when that person sneezes or coughs.
However, Leprosy is curable if it is detected in the early stage and if it is unnoticed then it can cause serious damage in the form of blindness, deformation, and permanent wounds.
Exclusion of leprosy as ground of divorce
The President of India gave its assent to the Personal laws (amendment) bill, 2019 on 21st February 2019 which became an act. The act seeks to exclude leprosy as the ground of divorce covering all religions in our nation to eliminate the discrimination experienced by the patients in India.
The Act, passing of which would necessitate an amendment in five marriage associated legislation which is Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act (1939), Divorce Act (1869), Special Marriages Act (1954), Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956) and Hindu Marriage Act (1955). This is certainly an effective step taken by the government which eliminates injustice that is based on the spreading of wrong information as well as on the stigma of the disease.
Before the passing of the concerned statute, the statement of objects and reasons in the bill stated that the patients of leprosy were isolated as there was a disbelief that this disease can’t be cured however with modernized remedy have eliminated this disbelief. Slowly the mindset of the society has begun to transform. Currently, leprosy is absolutely curable and can be medicated through multidrug medicine.
While the remedy to the disease was present since the 20th century, discriminatory statutes causing social boycott of individuals suffering from the disease were continued to exist. The Britishers brought legislation known as Leper’s act in 1898 which isolate excluded those affected, was quashed by the Ministry of Law and Justice in the year 2015.
This statute which essentially existed in violation of the fundamental right regarding the right to equality, regulated discrimination of the affected by excluding leprosy patients in territories away from the population. So, with the abolishing of leper’s act and leprosy as the basis of divorce, India will step towards abolishing the stigma against leprosy. Still, there are numerous statutes that discriminate individuals with leprosy regarding whether they can be employed in educational institutes, be appointed in civil bodies, allowed to access public places.
For instance, the statute known as Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003 prohibits a patient of leprosy from participating in civic elections. Likewise, the Rajasthan Panchayati Act of 1994 prohibits leprosy patients from participating in an election for the post of the pinch. The first effort towards eradicating the unfairness against people suffering from the ailment was executed in the year 2008 when the National Human Rights Commission had emphasized the requirement to make amendments in particular personal laws and other statutes. Along with this, India is a signatory to a UN Resolution known as ‘Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members’, which declares the eradication of discrimination against individuals affected from leprosy. In 2014, the Apex Court had also ordered the Centre and the state administrations to take measures for integration and rehabilitation of people suffering from leprosy into the mainstream.
Amendments in the respective statutes
The following amendments have been enacted in the respective statutes:
Divorce Act of 1869
In the divorce act 1869, section 10 of the act before the amendment provided for the ground on which marriage can be dissolved. Clause (1) of section 10 provides that any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of the Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act, 2001, may, on a petition presented to the District Court either by the husband or the wife, be dissolved on the ground that since the solemnization of the marriage, the respondent in accordance with sub-clause (iv) has, for a period of not less than two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition, been suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy. On this basis, marriage was subjected to dissolution.
Now with the enforcing of personal laws amendment act 2019, this section has now been amended.
Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939
As per the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 before the amendment in section 2, this section provided for the ground for a decree for dissolution of marriage. Section 2 provided that a woman married under Muslim law shall be entitled to obtain a decree for the dissolution of her marriage on any one or more of the following grounds, in which clause (vi) provided that the husband has been insane for a period of two years or is suffering from leprosy a virulent venereal disease. Based on this section the marriage could be dissolved by the woman. Now with the personal laws amendment act 2019, the particular clause that is clause (vi) is now being omitted.
Special Marriage Act, 1954
In the special marriage act, 1954 before the amendment in section 27, this section provided for the grounds of divorce. Clause (1) Section 27 states that subject to the provisions of this Act and to the rules made thereunder, a petition for divorce may be presented to the district court either by the husband or the wife on the ground that the respondent in accordance with clause (g) prescribed that has been suffering from leprosy, the disease not having been contracted from the petitioner. Because of this, the marriage was subjected to divorce.
But with the enforcement of the personal laws’ amendment act 2019, this clause has now been omitted.
Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
In the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, before the amendment in section 13, this section provided for the grounds for dissolution of marriage. Subsection (1) prescribes that any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party and clause (iv) states that have been suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy. Due to this, the marriage was subjected to the passing of the decree of the dissolution of marriage. But with the enforcement of personal laws amendment act, the clause has been now omitted.
Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act 1956
In Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act 1956, before the amendment in section 18, this section talks about the maintenance of wife in which subsection (1) specifies that subject to the provisions of this section, a Hindu wife, whether married before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be entitled to be maintained by her husband during her lifetime.
Section (2) mentions that a Hindu wife shall be entitled to live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim to maintenance where clause (c) provided that if he is suffering from a virulent form of leprosy. However, with the enforcement of the Personal laws amendment act 2019, the particular clause has now been omitted.
The enforcement of the Personal Laws Amendment Act 2019 is a phenomenal reform brought by the parliament in order to eliminate the decades-old stigma associated with the persons suffering from the ailment of leprosy. The statute to a very much extent has broken the prejudice which was continued by the society as the common outlook was that this disease will remain with the individuals lifelong and no cure is available and the person should be excluded from the general population. As a consequence, this disease was enumerated in particular statutes as a ground to disqualify the patients of leprosy from contesting elections or for some post and a notable point is that it seriously affected the marital tie resulting in the dissolution of marriage. However, when the medicine was discovered, the government decided to eradicate this decades-old prejudice on the patients and gave a message that this disease can be cured and they are entitled to live with society.
“The views of the authors are personal“
Frequently Asked Questions
In which statutes the clauses relating to leprosy as grounds of divorce has been removed?
Ans. The Act, passing of which would necessitate an amendment in five marriage associated legislation which is Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act (1939), Divorce Act (1869), Special Marriages Act (1954) and Hindu Marriage Act (1955).
What is leprosy?
Ans. Leprosy is an ailment caused mainly by mycobacterium. This disease affects particularly skin and outer nerves. It is identified by the emergence of buds or smudges that expand and transmits followed with losing eyesight, the formation of deformities, and wasting of muscle. Leprosy gets spread from the infected person when that person sneezes or coughs.
Which are the statutes that prohibit leprosy patients from contesting in the elections of public functionaries?
Ans. The statute known as Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003 prohibits a patient of leprosy from participating in civic elections. Likewise, the Rajasthan Panchayati Act of 1994 prohibits leprosy patients from participating in an election for the post of panch.