Tamil Nadu: Swayamvaram for a cause

Print edition : March 08, 2013

At the Swayamvaram function in Tiruchi organised by the Leucoderma Awareness Movement-India on January 27. Photo: A. Muralitharan

THE Chennai-based Leucoderma Awareness Movement (LAM)-India has been engaged in a relentless battle to drive away the despair and inferiority complex that trouble vitiligo-affected people in the country, particularly in Tamil Nadu. The movement had won acclaim for its role in impressing upon the State government the need to ban terms such as “Venkushtam” and “Venkuttam” (meaning “white leprosy”) that were wrongly used as the Tamil equivalents of vitiligo (Frontline, February 11, 2011). An order to this effect was passed on December 27, 2010.

K. Umapathy, secretary of the movement, has been spearheading the awareness campaign—through seminars and symposia held at educational institutions and at public forums—to allay apprehensions about this skin disorder caused by melanin pigment deficiency, which is neither hereditary nor infectious. The movement has also been popularising ‘Lukoskin’, a drug evolved by the Defence Research and Development Organisation after sustained research for more than a decade. The medicine helps to improve the autoimmune system gradually, Umapathy says.

Attempts by some school managements to keep their institutions out of bounds for students with leucoderma were scuttled, thanks to LAM-India’s intervention. At the time of school admissions, LAM-India pleads with the State government to issue a circular cautioning the managements against denial of admission to students with the skin condition. Now, the movement has added another feather to its cap—it organised a “Swayamvaram for People with Leucoderma” in Tiruchi on January 27 to help them choose life partners. The event, the first ever in south India, was aptly called swayamvaram, an ancient Indian practice that allowed a girl to choose her partner.

The swayamvaram was organised with a view to instilling confidence in the vitiligo affected and enabling them to come out of their shells, mix with others and choose their life partners. It evoked quite a lot of positive response from people with leucoderma—there were around 400 applicants.

After a thorough scrutiny, around 50 applicants and their parents were invited to the swayamvaram. Among the participants were school and college teachers, business administration and commerce graduates, software engineers and automobile workers. They came from districts such as Tiruchi, Madurai, Salem, Nilgiris, Erode, Karur and Namakkal. Cultural programmes formed part of the event to ensure total involvement of the vitiligo community in the function.

The most positive outcome of the swayamvaram is that many youngsters, with the blessings of their parents, came out of their cocoons and chose life partners, cutting across caste and community barriers. According to Umapathy, parents of nine pairs have commenced the process of finalising the choice of their wards. Of them, three pairs have expressed their wish to get their wedding solemnised at the next swayamvaram, to be held in the western region of Tamil Nadu in May. The swayamvaram event will be held in different regions of the State once in three months, he says.

S. Dorairaj