Dr. Vijaykumar Vinayak Dongre receiving the ‘International Gandhi Award’ for the year 2013 in recognition of his four decades of work in the field of leprosy control from Rashtrapati, Shri. Pranab Mukharji, Up-Rashtrapati, Shri. Hamid Ansari and Mr. Dhirubhai Mehta, Chairman of Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation (GMLF), Wardha, Maharashtra on 15th February, 2014.


Dr.V.V.Dongre's Speech at Rashtrapati Bhavan

Respected Rashtrapatiji, Shri. Pranab Mukharji, Respected Up-Rashtrapatiji, Shri. Hamid Ansari, the Chairman of Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation, Mr. Dhirubhai Mehta, the Hon. Director and Secretary of Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation, Dr. B. S. Garg, our friend from China, Dr.(Prof.) Zyang, dignitaries in the audience, ladies and gentlemen,

Today is Gurupratipada, so at the outset, I salute my Gurus and guides for shaping my career as a humble, grass-root level leprosy field worker as it is said that “ieg©j& mee#eeled Hejye´cn, lemcew Þeer iegjJes veceë!”

Very modestly I say that I am trying to follow the foot-steps of my teachers in this field. I mention few names. Coincidently, today is the death anniversary of Mr. Manohar Diwan, a freedom fighter who was one of the pioneers in the field of leprosy, whose work was appreciated by Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhiji. The Father of Nation visited Mr. Diwan’s organisation and thereafter wrote in the visitors’ book that “People call me as Mahatma but the true Mahatma is Mr. Manohar Diwan”. The Father of Nation, himself was very much interested in the anti leprosy work and nursed Mr. Parchure Shastri, a freedom fighter and a Sanskrit Pandit, but a victim of leprosy in Sevagram Ashram. This became a source of inspiration for people like, Dr. Susheelaji Nayyar, Dr. R. V. Wardekarji, whose Survey, Education, Treatment pattern of leprosy control was very much appreciated all over the world and for Mr. Baba Amteji and Dr. Shivajirao Patawardhanji.

There was no satisfactory effective treatment for this ancient disease, confined to man only, and the dictum was once leprosy means always leprosy. In spite of the misconceptions attached to the disease, the stalwarts and the Samaritans continued their yeoman services to leprosy sufferers. “ve lJenb keÀece³es jep³eb, ve mJeie¥, ve DeHegveYe&Jeced~ keÀece³es ogëKe leHleeveeb He´eefCeveeb kegÀ<þ veeMeveced~~” I do not desire for a kingdom, I don’t wish to be in heaven, I do not want to avoid reincarnation, I earnestly desire the amelioration of the sufferings of the leprosy affected people. This was the aim and objective of these social and medical workers which stimulated me as a youngster to undertake anti leprosy work from 1st October 1963 till today. The persons affected with leprosy along with their family members suffer from social stigma, violating their human rights. Surprisingly, the leprosy workers too suffer from social stigma at times. Leprosy is a disease of paradoxes. The roots of the social stigma are in the deformities that are caused by delayed treatment of the disease. Deformities do not attract sympathy but cause apathy.

In 1980, Prime-Minister, Ms. Indiraji Gandhi made an appeal in the World Health Assembly that, “let us eradicate leprosy by the turn of the century. Consign leprosy to limbo of history”. This gave an impetus to leprosy programme. She appointed Swaminathan Committee that gave recommendations to achieve the goal of eradication of leprosy. She took active part in repealing the outdated, outmoded Indian Leprosy Act of 1898. In this venture Ms. Leela Moolgaokar, a well known social worker and the then Chief Minister of M.S., Mr. Vasant Dada Patil took active part.

Incidentally, Multi Drug Treatment which is very effective became available from 1981 onwards, free of cost which helped in the cure of leprosy patients all over the world. To-day is the death anniversary of Dr. M. S. Nilkanta Rao who initially tried MDT in Wardha district successfully. I salute him. A journey from curse to cure through ocean of stigma, thus getting completed.

My work is case-detection, case holding for regular and complete treatment, prevention of deformities, prevention of dehabilitation of leprosy patients and wherever necessary community based rehabilitation of them. I help in creating awareness about the disease, try to remove misconceptions about the disease in the Society and do advocacy to repeal outmoded, outdated 19 legal acts. For that I use all the media along with my colleagues as it is said that “mebnefleë keÀe³e&meeefOekeÀe”. Team work gives success. We are having introspection and we are trying to rectify the errors in undertaking anti leprosy work.

There are rays of hope. The gloomy picture is becoming rosy.

There are welfare schemes for empowerment of PALs. The PALs are also getting organised under IDEA (Integrated Development and Economic Advancement) and have gained self-esteem and confidence, so that they can agitate for their due rights. The Petition Committee of Rajya-Sabha is looking after the outdated acts / laws and will take necessary action to give justice to the sufferers. The UNO has given guidelines for restoring human rights of the leprosy patients. WHO has suggested that due importance should be given to inclusion of leprosy patients while preparing any programme for them. The Supreme Court will give verdict on some of their issues in due course of time. There is integration of leprosy services with General Health Care System. Care is taken to see that there is no discrimination as far as PALs are concerned.

I vouch that as long as it is possible for me to take active part in the amelioration of the sufferings of leprosy patients, I shall continue my work for them under NGOs like ALERT-INDIA, The Society for the Eradication of Leprosy and GMLF.

I am thankful to the authorities who have nominated me and selected for the coveted award. Throughout my carrier, my wife supported me silently.

We believe in the philosophy of “JemegOewJe kegÀìgbyekeÀced”, the whole world is one family. So we say, “ke=ÀCJevlees efJeMJeced kegÀ<þcegkeÌleced”. We will eradicate leprosy from the globe. This is possible on the background of positive political will and a synergistic joint action by the stakeholders, the people, the patients and the providers. Leprosy is ubiquitous but its elimination is not utopia.

Thank you for your kind attention.

(Speech delivered on 15th February, 2014 at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi during International Gandhi Award 2013 by Dr. V. V. Dongre)