TOKYO, March 27, 2014 /CNW/ - It would be hard to overstate the rapturous welcome given to the Dalai Lama when he visited a community of people affected by leprosy in India recently. The feeling was clearly mutual. "Dear brothers and sisters, I am extremely happy to come here and see you," the spiritual leader told a crowd of 500 at the Kasturba Gram Colony in Tahirpur Leprosy Complex, New Delhi, on March 20.
After clasping hands with as many people as time permitted, the Dalai Lama gave an address that resonated with his audience. "Seven billion human beings are all equal," he said. "People should not look down on others. It is totally wrong. Discrimination is a sin."
Discrimination is something that people affected by leprosy know only too well. Their disease pushes them to the margins of society, denying them opportunities for education and employment, destroying marriages and restricting access to healthcare and social amenities. Even after treatment, the stigma can last a lifetime.
In the face of leprosy's challenges, the Dalai Lama urged his audience never to lose hope and to go forward with "courage and self-confidence." In a show of support, he promised to donate Rs. 1 million (approximately US$16,400) to Kasturba Gram as well as a portion of royalties from his book sales over the next five years.
India has some 850 self-settled leprosy colonies that are home to around 200,000 people. Recognizing the need for these communities to speak with a common voice, in 2006 the Nippon Foundation supported the establishment of a nationwide network now known as the Association of People Affected by Leprosy.
"Leprosy is not hereditary. It is not highly infectious. It is not a dangerous disease," said APAL's president, V. Narsappa, "There is no need to isolate us. We are equal members of society." He also called for the discriminatory term 'leper' not to be used.
The Dalai Lama's visit took place at the suggestion of Nippon Foundation Chairman and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa, who underlined its significance. "I am certain that the words we have heard today from His Holiness will give tremendous encouragement to people affected by leprosy and their families across India and throughout the world," he said.
SOURCE: The Nippon Foundation
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