After 29 years of aiding leprosy patients nun forced to leave India


Residents of the rehab Centre come to say goodbye

A Catholic nun from Britain who has spent 29 years caring for leprosy patients in Bengaluru, India, is being forced to give up her work and leave the country after Delhi refused to renew her residency permit.

London-born Jacqueline Jean McEwan, now known as Sister Jean, or the Mother Teresa of Sumanahalli, runs a mobile clinic for leprosy patients. She has been ordered to leave without explanation by the union home ministry and if her appeal for permission to stay goes unanswered by 2pm on Monday she will have to board an evening flight bound for London…

“I work with leprosy patients in two city slums and a nearby village. They’re old and neurologically damaged, and suffer from ailments such as cancer. I’ve spent a long time with my people in Bengaluru, but wherever God wants me to be I won’t remain idle,” she said.

As the Guardian reported in March, leprosy has officially been eliminated in India, yet 130,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Funds for both leprosy charities and government leprosy programmes have reduced, and some projects have shut down.

But the Sumanahalli Society, on the outskirts of Bengaluru in Karnataka state, has been doing extraordinary work in the treatment, vocational training and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, winning national and other awards. The mission was set up in the late 70s after a request by Karnataka’s chief minister to the archbishop of Bengaluru. Today, Sumanahalli leather goods, garments and other products are marketed in the UK by the Leprosy Mission, an international development organisation.

“But we don’t have anybody to take care of our clinics who is as trained and committed as Sister Jean,” said the director of the society, Father George Kannanthanam. “She’s wonderful – she knows every leprosy patient by name…If Sister Jean has to leave, the main loss will be for the patients,” he added. “They call her ‘Amma’ – she’s like a mother to them. It’s as if Sumanahalli’s heart is being ripped out.”

I know, I know, just some bureaucratic mistake. Still – it shouldn’t take an international brouhaha to rectify the simplest issue in medicine – continuing care. No doubt there’s some ego-damaged politician somewhere in the loop who feared their little fiefdom was threatened.

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