Personal Laws Amendment Bill transforms marriage in India

Leprosy is no longer grounds for divorce in India.

The Cabinet, the highest decision-making body in the Indian Government, chaired by the Prime Minister, has approved the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2018 which amends the Divorce Act for Christians, Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, the Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act and strikes out leprosy as a ground for seeking divorce.

Before this landmark decision, people affected by leprosy were equated with those experiencing mental illness under several Marriage Acts and the Indian Divorce Act.

The Leprosy Mission England and Wales Vice President, businessman and entrepreneur Ram Gidoomal said, “This new Bill is a triumph for people affected by leprosy and a great testimony to the hard work of our colleagues in India who have campaigned tirelessly against the laws in India which discriminate against leprosy-affected people. It is also an answer to persistent prayers around the world.”

He continued, “I know that the speed of change for any law, even those that are clearly outdated and discriminatory, can be frustratingly slow in India, so it is really encouraging that at long last, the human rights of leprosy-affected individuals are being upheld in this way.” 

Despite this great news about the Amendment Bill, there remains a plethora of laws and practices in India that discriminate against people affected by leprosy. The Leprosy Mission Trust India and various other stakeholders will continue to campaign until all these laws are repealed so that ‘equality in dignity and rights’ become a reality for people affected by leprosy. A recent Supreme Court ruling means a Bill designed to end discrimination against people affected by leprosy will be heard in the next session of Parliament in September 2018. 

Sharidah is 60 years old and lives in the Ghogronala Leprosy Community in Champa, Chhattisgarh, India. She was diagnosed with leprosy at 10 years old and because she didn’t have any obvious symptoms of leprosy, she was able to marry. When her symptoms started to show her husband divorced her, left her and took her children away from her.

Thanks to taking part in a The Leprosy Mission self-help group for the last 12 years, she has been able to set up her grocery store that gives her a livelihood. She earns 50-60 rupees per week but says sadly, “sometimes people are still reluctant to visit and buy things from my shop, especially when they see my hands or feet and the permanent disabilities that they show.”