A frontline soldier’s story: How Rajkumar leads the fight against social exclusion of people affected by leprosy

A frontline soldier’s story: How Rajkumar leads the fight against social exclusion of people affected by leprosy

The sparkle of steely determination that shone in Rajkumar’s eyes was convincing enough for The Leprosy Mission Trust India’s SOAR (Securing Opportunities towards Advancing Revenue) project team to propose his name as one of the members of the board of directors of a milk producer company that the project was facilitating. Rajkumar was no different from the other board members – he was also affected by leprosy.

A Commerce graduate, Rajkumar worked in a private firm in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. His wife, Lakshmi, a teacher, and son, Tarun Raj, lived with his parents in his native village, Sri Neducherry, in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu. His father is a government employee and his brother is the vice president of Sri Neducherry village panchayat. Life was more or less eventless for Rajkumar till one day in 2013 he was diagnosed with leprosy – and that proved a turning point. But by the time his leprosy was diagnosed, he had already developed claw hands. He took multidrug therapy (MDT) for a year and was cured. For correcting the deformity in his hands, he underwent reconstructive surgery at TLM Vadathorasalur Hospital, Tamil Nadu.

Cuddalore Community Livelihood Services Producer Company Ltd held its first general body meeting in which its 350 shareholders and about 300 marginalised primary producers participated
Rajkumar belonged to an influential family in the village and so stigma was never a challenge for him. However, the plight of many people affected by leprosy moved his heart. Educated and public-spirited, he took it on himself to work for ending stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy and rehabilitating them. “When I was admitted to TLM Hospital for reconstructive surgery, I heard from other leprosy patients how they suffered because of stigma and discrimination. I was convinced that I had to do something for people affected by leprosy,” he says. “I befriended other patients, talked to them about social exclusion they faced. I was appalled by their sufferings,” he continued. With a resolve to help others affected by leprosy, Rajkumar visited SOAR project office, after leaving his job in Coimbatore. He met the project team and expressed his desire to work for people affected by leprosy.

It’s been a long journey since then. Rajkumar still remembers the day of his first board meeting. SOAR project’s David Jagannathan’s words still ring in his ears, “Be the voice of the voiceless”. He still remembers his first speech, “I am also affected by leprosy. I know how much you suffer because of the consequences of leprosy. I assure you; I will lead the fight against leprosy, stigma, and social discrimination from the front. I will work for your rehabilitation so that you can live with dignity like any other citizen of this country.” The teardrops that rolled down his cheeks vouched for the sincerity of his words!

Rajkumar with his family