NO LONGER ABLE TO LOOK AWAY: THE HARDSHIP OF THE UNTOUCHABLES
Stella Deetjen was visiting Benares in the early 1990s. She sat at the Ganges river bank tormented by stomach pain, when a man suffering from leprosy comforted her. Touched by his compassion, she started to support him and his fellow sufferers.
Out of this originally purely private initiative grew a comprehensive support project in Benares for people affected by leprosy and their family members. To formalise the evolving project work Back to Life e.V. was founded as a non-profit organisation based in Germany in 1996.
At first Back to Life’s support focussed only on curing leprosy; yet, soon it became clear that medical initiatives alone would not be enough to restore the dignity of the ‘untouchables’. Stigmatised by mutilations and visible marks of their disease, even those who were already cured from leprosy continued to live a life at the very bottom of the Indian society, discriminated and ostracised at a daily basis. Still they had no choice but trying to make a living as a beggar to feed themselves and their loved ones they had to leave behind.
Without additional social support it would not be possible for them to seek shelter during the monsoon and winter season, return to their villages, or move to one of the leprosy colonies in the area. Therefore, Back to Life also started to support them in regaining a dignified life, whether they decided to return to their former homes or make a new humble beginning somewhere else.