Giving lepers a new lease of life : The Tribune India

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Giving lepers a new lease of life

Giving lepers  a new lease of life

Photo for representation. File photo

RK Saboo

BACK in 1978, my wife Usha went to the Sector 17 market in Chandigarh one evening. As she came out of the car, she stepped on a leper in a heap of rags. She apologised and started talking to him. His story was heart-rending. He said he and others lived near a river and had no means of survival except begging. Usha went there next day and found 70-80 men, women and children — all badly infected, with suppurating wounds and disfigured faces — begging during the day and spending nights under trees. She came home very sad and shared the distressing encounter with me.

I met then UT Deputy Commissioner MG Devasahayam and apprised him of the leper situation. I also mentioned that the Rotary Club of Chandigarh would take up a rehabilitation project with the UT administration and raise the funds required. Thereafter, I requested then Chief Commissioner TN Chaturvedi for a plot of land, to be allotted free of lease money, where the lepers could be settled. Our request was accepted immediately, and a plot was allotted in Sector 47. We named the place Chandi Kusht Ashram.

Soon, our Rotary Club meeting was held; planning and action started. Firstly, the children were segregated in a new home run by the UT Red Cross and we made sure that the lepers did not beg any more. A club member, BM Singh, arranged for them to grow and sell vegetables and provided goats for milk. They were given material to build huts for each couple on the allotted land. A dispensary was started in a mud hut with equipment, medicines, furniture, etc. for their regular treatment. We visited them frequently and supplied rations and other necessities. We were in constant touch with their segregated children and monitored their health, education and general well-being. For years, it remained our top priority.

Realising that the task was enormous, I requested Rotary Midtown Club to join us and then President BL Ramsisaria took on the responsibility in 1980. A doctor couple of Midtown Club, Subhash and Rekha, regularly tended to the patients and in time, all inmates were fully cured and declared leprosy-free. Usha invited the whole group for lunch in our garden, drawing the wrath of our domestic staff!

Gradually, a community kitchen and dispensary were built in 1983. The first block of unit homes was built in 1985, and the project was completed in 1988 by then Rotary Midtown President DP Khandelia. In February 1989, 41 houses were dedicated to them in the presence of then Chief Commissioner Ashok Pradhan.

Now, all residents are totally disease-free and self-dependent. Chandi Kusht Ashram takes pride of place in the City Beautiful.

A chance encounter changed the lives of so many families forever. Happiness is a strange phenomenon. Indeed, so is the pursuit of happiness.

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