Always among the ones who dream big and think of pragmatic solutions to deep rooted problems, former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam believes that producing movies on the rehabilitated life of lepers on the lines of "Black", which dealt with the issue of visually challenged people, will help in scrubbing away the social stigma attached to the disease.
At the launch of the Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation (SILF) here, Kalam Wednesday said that the issues attached to leprosy are many - physical, mental and social - and hence the solution offered should be equally multi-dimensional.
"While dealing with such a sensitive issue, one should remember that there should be rehabilitation with compassion.
"The masses have to be educated and made aware of the realities so that those who have been cured of leprosy are accepted back in the mainstream. A sensitive and beautiful movie like 'Black' would help greatly in this regards," Kalam said.
Spearheaded by Yohei Sasakawa, the chairperson of the Nippon Foundation, who has been working for this cause for the past 40 years, SILF aims at reaching out to people affected by leprosy in India and help them return to the mainstream by supporting them to become socially and economically empowered.
Sasakawa said: "Since its independence, India has achieved a lot in terms of eradication of leprosy. The rate is now less than one case per 10,000 people.
"Even then, it is heart wrenching to see that most of these people end up begging on the roads simply because no one is ready to accept them back in the mainstream life. Our aim is to re-integrate them into the mainstream society."
Through its umbrella organisation, the Nippon Foundation of Japan, $10 million will be infused into the organisation. Tarun Das, chairperson of the board of trustees, said: "To begin with, we will be concentrating on funding research studies to understand the issues related to the disease, organising education and skill development programme, ensure that the people have access to micro-credit and provision of housing and sanitation. We want to start a national movement with regards to leprosy."
Kalam threw up a number of suggestions for SILF. "Various options such as handicrafts unit, tailoring unit, leather craft, printing and cottage industry units should be opened up to rehabilitate people who have been cured of leprosy.
"It has been noticed that 70 percent of the leprosy cases in India are concentrated in five states - West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, while the extreme northeast and north-west are free from it. There should be a study to understand why the case is such," Kalam said.
"SILF should work in association with the NGOs on a common mission of rehabilitation of the people who are cured of leprosy. Ultimately, the slogan of this noble mission should be 'Let my brain remove the pain'," Kalam added.