Oral History Excerpts

Anantrao Chaphekar with his Wife and Daughter
India

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Anantrao Chaphekar with his wife, Mrs. Padma Chaphekar. Photo from video interview

My family had four persons – my father, my mother, myself and my sister, but I was brought up by my uncle who had a family of ten members – six brothers and four sisters. I was married in 1945 when I was a studying in an engineering college at Pune.  After I completed my electrical engineering education, I started working for Rashtriya Seva Sangh (RSS), a movement to make people live a selfless life, in Vizal.  In 1949 when there was a Government ban against RSS, I was arrested.  When I came out of prison, my father told me to work and earn a living as I was married and had children. So I started to work.    

My father came from Bombay and he purchased a piece of land with about three to four acres.  Part of it was for a leprosy colony and a part of it for agriculture.  So I worked for seven years in the land, from 1950-56, but it was not profitable at that time.  I wanted to work to support my family.  I got employed in New Pratap Mills, Gudiy, and as I was continuing my work I got leprosy.  When I was working in the agriculture farm, I used to catch snakes and send them to Bombay for identification of species as to which are poisonous and which are not. 

When I worked for a Personnel Manager there, he asked me what have you got on your eye brow – there was a red patch.   I said it is nothing.  There is no pain – nothing on it.     It might be some after-effect of my catching snakes.  He said that one worker had complained that a new assistant engineer has gotten leprosy, so I had myself examined medically.  I was shocked to know that I had leprosy of the lepromatous type.  I wrote to my father that I have got leprosy and that he should forget about me.  I felt my wife will have to go there and face a peculiar situation and my sister will also not get married.  I was shocked.  I met a medical man, Dr. Dugar, who told me that nowadays this is not a incurable disease that there are new drugs for this disease. That was in 1957.

I went to Wardha and I met Dr. Wardekar at the Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation. He told me to sit.  I said that I do not want to contaminate the chair.   He told me that he is a doctor and he knows how the disease spreads.  I sat down, in fear.  He gave me DDS 10 mg per day, but he told me that I can go home and take the medicine there. I came back and stayed at home.  Fortunately my wife’s father or mother felt that they needed someone at home for my wife.  For myself, they used to bring food and the utensils were different . . . .

In 1973, Dr. Jal Metha approached me and put forward a child of some 20 years old whose father was suffering from leprosy.  I started a leprosy colony.  At that time I read a book by Henry Viscardi, Jr. called “Give us the Tools”.  The writer himself was a disabled person.  It was the story of abilities.  A person with leprosy can start work to assist other leprosy patients.  The name of the organization was Abilities Incorporated, to show that we are not disabled.  I started the Udyog Bhavan.  Udyog means Industry Bhavan means Home.  It will be a Home for Leprosy Patients.  It was started in 1979.  Mrs.Veena Mahindra, Additional Collector at that time, helped me very much to get rid of the red tape.  It took some four years to get permission and another three years was spent in collecting funds.  Nowadays it is very easy to get funds because the Udyog Bhavan has obtained a name as the best rehabilitation center and this was started in 1985.  Five persons were brought from the leprosy beggar’s home in Chembur and we started to manufacture chalk and also conduct agriculture at the same time.  After a few years the chalk industry got an established market, but during the rainy season there was no work because we could not dry the chalk.  Chalk sticks.  White as well as coloured . . . .

Now I am 79.  My wife is 76.  I am trying to do whatever I can for the leprosy patients.   My daughters are also helping.  In Vizal, we have one home for the aged workers/leprosy patients.  It is a new service for aged.  When we started we used to sell coupons – one rupee, two rupees, five rupees.  And now people are giving donations.  We have collected Rs. 5,000,000 . . . .

[Have you been affected by leprosy stigma?]   Yes. There are so many times.  It is better to forget that   Once I was traveling in the train and the people asked whether we can play cards.  Four people on this side and four people on that side.  One person asked would you like to play cards.  Why not?  So we started to play, but then he just threw away the cards.  He did not want to touch the cards used by me.  That was very insulting to me.  In another place I asked the people where I could get water.  They did not say because I was affected by leprosy.  It is better to forget those experiences.  Our people working here are attending the functions at all the places.  Our students are staying.  Now stigma is reduced at least for now.

Mrs. Padma Chaphekar:  When I knew that my husband got leprosy, literally I cannot change any thing.  My father-in-law was very much upset.  I had four daughters.  I only knew our business of cows. We had milking cows. But my father always helped us.   Nobody will buy milk from us.  My daughters also suffered.  In the school nobody will eat with them.  Nobody will talk with them freely.  Nobody will come in our house.  I was also not invited for anything.  Then after some time I had given up everything.   I am different from all of them.  Now they try to console me.  So I have always suffered from the stigma. Now when I go to book the order for the chalk, they hesitate to take the chalk from us.  I went to the University to get an order for the chalk sticks.  The Professor told me not to come with the leprosy affected persons.  After some time I was given a certificate from a doctor.  I always go there to get the order.

Mrs. Bhawle, the second daughter of Mr. Chaphekar:  What my father has taught me is to fight with the life.  In leprosy the stigma was too much when my father got the disease.   He taught us to fight the stigma, the situation around us, whatever it may be.  We are never ashamed to say that my father had leprosy.  He taught us how to stand up, how to face problems and how to face the stigma.  He taught us even not to hate the people who hate us in return.  These are his great qualities and his advice to accept the situation.  So, I see in my father a warrior and a saint.

-- Excerpts from an interview by Dr. P.K. Gopal, President, IDEA.  Transcribed by Mr. Muthusamy.  Copyright 2006 by Anantrao Chaphekar and Dr. P.K. Gopal.

[Note:  Mr. Chaphekar was the first person to have the vision to organize people affected by leprosy from the different leprosy communities in Maharashtra State.  He formed Maharashtra Kushtpidit Sanghatana and was appointed the first President of this organization.  They brought the difficulties facing people affected by leprosy to the Government of Maharashtra and Mr. Chaphekar was instrumental in introducing some social welfare programs.  The Government of Maharashtra appointed him as Chairman of a Rehabilitation Committee constituted by the Government.]