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Detected & cured, yet deserted
- Leprosy stigma keeps 51-year-old out of women’s home

She lived and worked there for 12 years, but when she needed them the most, they deserted her, she cries. Kanika Nandy was diagnosed with a non-infective form of leprosy some six months ago. She was immediately told to gather her things and leave the Nari Seva Sangha home in Jodhpur Park, where she was highly skilled at kantha creations, and has since been stopped from going back to even meet her friends.

The 51-year-old, now forced to put up with her younger brother in Durgapur, weeps as she recounts her humiliation at the hands of the 18-member committee of the women’s NGO.

“They won’t let me go back now. All my friends are there, who have been asking about me, but I can’t see them. I didn’t even leave with all my things. My brother will come on Saturday to collect the rest,” weeps Kanika.

Her doctor, Badshah Panja, at the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan, on Sarat Bose Road, explains that of the four types of leprosy, the form she was infected by, Borderline Tuberculoid, is “completely non-infective. In fact, compared to the condition she came to me in August last year, she has not only improved, but there are no disfigurements.”

When she started getting spots that itched about seven months ago, the Sangha got the tests done. Once leprosy was detected, she was referred to skin specialist Panja. Kanika responded positively to treatment of anti-leprosy drugs, and the result of her smear test at the School of Tropical Medicine this month was ‘negative’.

“So, she is in effect cured, but the treatment has to continue for at least a year,” Panja points out. “I have written umpteen letters to the committee and spoken to representatives of Nari Seva Sangha, vouching for her and claiming full responsibility, but to no avail. Perhaps they are afraid the other women at the home will be infected, but then we doctors, too, have families. I treat about 150 patients here every day, and if she posed any threat, I would be more careful. I even eat the paan she makes... But they have simply abandoned her.”

Amiya Datta, superintendent of of the Sangha, however, says: “We have been paying for her treatment and will continue to do so. But until she finishes her course of medication, which we have been told is two years, we cannot allow her to come back. We have our reasons.”

Kanika says she has been told that the Sangha will stop paying for her medication. “The superintendent has been going to the doctor for my visits, but they said not any more. I don’t have the means to sustain myself and my brother gets Rs 3,000-a-month retirement money, with which he has to pay for his son’s college and daughter’s school fees. He says he will continue to support me, but how long can I ask that of him'” she sighs.

In the interim, Kanika has been staying with a friend in Calcutta, since it is easier travelling, making it to the doctor’s. But once she returns home, she will have to trudge all the way from Durgapur, limping with an old hip injury, (“for which the Sangha helped me out a great deal”), by bus and train. “And I won’t even be able to work, because how will I possibly sell my kantha there'”

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