Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The government of Karnataka has approved seizing 45
acres of land used by the Sumanahalli Society, a Catholic organisation that, for
the past 30 years, has helped people living with leprosy in Bangalore. Based on
an order issued on 21 September, the Catholic organisation will be left with
only five acres to provide its services, an area where "it is impossible to contain
the activities of more than 400 people," its director, Fr George Kannanthanam,
At present, the government is deaf to pleas from civil society groups
like NGOs and Church. A demonstration last Monday at the centre got nowhere. Leprosy
patients joined the protest, saying "that rather than leave this land, we shall
let ourselves die."
In 1977, Karnataka's then chief minister Devarja Urs called on Bangalore's
Christians to take care of the lepers living near the Beggars' Colony, a
government-owned area, because the state could not provide for them. To do so,
it granted a 30-year lease to the Archdiocese, which set up the Sumanahalli
In 2007, the government decided not to renew the lease, and reduced the
area from 63 to 55 acres to widen a road. A building housing beggars and
homeless people had to give way.
Mgr Bernard Moras, archbishop of Bangalore, joined the patients'
protest, calling it a "betrayal of the community by the government," which
invited Christians "to take up this most difficult work" in favour of the sick
The latest draconian cut to the area is a major headache. The centre
includes 50 buildings that provide health care, rehabilitation and basic
"We accept lepers, HIV patients, disabled people, orphans, street kids
and young offenders," said Fr Kannanthanam. "If we close our structures, where
will these people go? The government took this decision but will not provide
other areas for the most marginalised."
One study shows that 18,000 people live and sleep in the streets of
For the priest, it is not likely that the centre's good work caused envy
and jealousy among Hindu nationalists because of its Catholic character.
"The Sumanahalli Society has never been openly Catholic. After years of
service, we do not have a chapel even though we could build one. We chose not
to build it to keep the place non-denominational. We have served the sick and
marginalised of society without distinction of race or creed. Only one of our resident
What is happening, Fr Kannanthanam believes, "ought to shake up the
country's collective consciousness. If, as a nation, we try to deprive the most
vulnerable strata in society, what moral stand can we claim?"