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Flashback Friday – Remembering Anusaya. How leprosy robbed her of family love & dignity

When Anusaya Sahare was in her mid-30’s she contracted leprosy. At the time she was married with two young children. When her husband found out, he left them. She survived by selling rice; something Anusaya became quite good at, and which enabled her to save enough money to build a brick house (a big step up from the stick shack they had lived in). Single-handedly Anusaya provided all she could for her son and daughter as they grew up. Putting aside savings for their futures, she paid for her daughter’s marriage and later put the family house in her son’s name when he got married.

Though cured of the disease, nerve damage to her hands and feet rendered them completely insensitive to injury. Though initially she didn’t have the classic deformity associated with leprosy, as the years went by, neglect, ignorance and infection resulted in a complete loss of fingers and damage to her feet. It was at this time that Ausaya’s son, whom she idolised and believed would care for her in her old age, threw her out of the home and onto the streets.

Anusaya refused to disappear and built a stick shack right outside the property gate. She survived by begging, though often became sick after eating donated food that had gone bad. This is what she had been reduced to doing, and it shamed her greatly.

Her daughter in law was physically abusive too, as where her grandchildren. When they were young, Anusaya would give them pocket money from the funds she collected from begging. In their teens however, Anusaya’s grandson and granddaughter would beat her and steal her money.

Usha and I first encountered Anusaya lying on the side of the road after a fall. She’d lain there for hours, during which time no one had come to help. When we learnt of her family’s abusive behaviour, we asked the police to intervene, but they refused to “meddle in family matters”.

So, we would patch her up, keep the wounds on her hands and feet clean and dry, and give her whatever she wanted to make life a little more bearable.

Anusaya didn’t want for much; she was happy with the companionship and food we provided each day, and the odd bar of Cadbury’s chocolate! Though physically frail she was incredibly strong willed. A proud woman who was incensed by her son’s betrayal, and never gave up fighting for the right to go in HER property. She hated having to bathe and toilet herself on the streets, instead of using the bathroom in the home she’d created for her young family all those years earlier.

In the end Anusaya became blind and bedridden, and our only option was to nurse her the best we could in her shack. There was no hospice in Nagpur where she could be nursed properly and no hospital was willing to provide bed space to an elderly and infirm woman like Anusaya.

One Monday morning Usha and I travelled by our scooter to her home, as we had done for months. Arriving we found Anusaya’s shack gone. She had died on the Sunday evening and by morning her family had erased everything. Our only consolation was that for those last few months of her life, Anusaya knew that someone cared.

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