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A Nano for the Mother Teresa of Bengaluru

Last updated on: December 26, 2012 10:59 IST

A Nano for the Mother Teresa of Bengaluru

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Vicky Nanjappa

A 75-year-old nun in Bengaluru brings those neglected by the stigma of leprosy back into mainstream society. Vicky Nanjappa reports.

Sister Mary Mascarenhas's affectionate demeanour and nonchalance never goes amiss.

The nun is held in high regard by those who receive her healing touch. And they number in the thousands!

That explains why the nun, who turned 75 last week, is fondly known as the Mother Teresa of Bengaluru.

Sister Mary and the Sumanhalli Society, the Bengaluru-based non-profit organisation with which she has been associated with since its inception in 1978, have been tirelessly working towards the uplift of leprosy-affected patients and their families.

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Image: Sister Mary Mascarenhas with a rehabilitated patient of the Sumanhalli Society


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Having set aside personal pleasure and her job as a school principal in Karnataka's Chikmagalur district, Sister Mary opted to transform the lives of leprosy-affected individuals and their families. Her dedication has seen over 10,000 children getting access to basic education.

She has now taken up rehabilitation efforts, helping those cured of leprosy return to the mainstream of society.

Her biggest achievement was when she convinced the state government to create reservations in jobs for leprosy-cured people. Her efforts have seen about 500 people taking up positions in different government departments in Bengaluru.

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Image: Sumanahalli Society Director Father George Kannanthanam shares a light moment with a patient


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Sister Mary also advocated the reservation for leprosy-affected individuals in government housing projects. Thereafter, about 800 houses were built through schemes like the Ashraya Yojana, the Slum Clearance Board and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Rejuvenation Mission.

Not surprisingly, her patients treat her like God on earth.

On her 75th birthday last week, they lovingly gifted her a Tata Nano as a token of their gratitude.

Sister Mary says it is most important to understand the social stigma of the patients. "It is not enough if they are cured and sent back. They have undergone stigma and hence it becomes even more important that we help rehabilitate them."

"We want them to live independently," the nun says, "and have a decent job so that they are not dependent on anyone."

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Image: Former patients of the Sumanhalli Society present the keys to the Tata Nano to Sister Mary on her 75th birthday


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Ramesh Babu, an attender at the Bengaluru Municipal Corporation who fondly calls Sister Mary Amma (mother), remembers the day she picked him up from the railway station where he was sitting alone, starving and leprosy-affected.

"I did not like seeing Amma taking public transport for her work and hence we decided to gift her a Nano car so that she can travel easily."

"This is the least we could do for our Amma," he says, wiping his moist eyes.

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Image: Sister Mary speaks to a singer


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Amidst the goodwill and hard work, the Sumanhalli Society is fighting for survival.

The NGO has taken the government to court over the latter's recent decision to take back 43 of the 48 acres of land allotted to the organisation, which left the society a small portion of land where leprosy patients don't even reside.

Says Father Kannanthanam, "At the hearing last week, the court has given us the right to challenge this order. We will fight the case to whatever extent required."

"There are 400 people affected by leprosy, HIV, disabilities, orphans, street boys and juvenile delinquents living on the campus with every facility required for them utilising the whole land," the priest adds, "for which the government had requested and invited us in 1976."

Efforts are on at various levels to get the government order revoked.

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Image: The Sumanhalli Society premises


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