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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

OBITUARY: A Good Man Passes

Founder of Hyderabad colony came from a privileged background

Mohammed Salahuddin, who died in September aged 80, was the founder of Parvath Nagar, or Rock Land Colony, Hyderabad, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Born into a wealthy family, Salahuddin once trained as a body builder and aspired to be "Mr. Hyderabad" before being diagnosed with leprosy in his teens. He established the colony in 1978 after he came to an arrangement with the city authorities for the use of some 50 acres of rock-strewn land.

Salahuddin's iron-clad rule was "no begging." People affected by leprosy could have land to live on, but only if they agreed to work for a living. This did not happen easily. He fought battles with the authorities over employment rights of residents, and later waged a legal struggle over the title to the land, but in the long run the colony has grown and prospered.

"He wanted to do something for others. That was his nature."

Recalls Dr. J. Subbanna of LEPRA India, who worked with Salahuddin on a number of projects: "He was an activist among people affected by leprosy who wanted to secure their basic amenities so they could live with dignity. He tried to generate political will and momentum. Although his vision was blurred, he had a very sharp mind; he remembered everything. The main thing about him was his passion for doing something; it was very touching. Until he died, he was on the job."

Another who knew Salahuddin well was V. Narsappa, president of the Society of Leprosy Affected Persons, who says that unlike others with his resources and family background who found themselves in a similar situation, Salahuddin chose not to remain at home. "Salahuddin was not like that. He wanted to do something for others. That was his nature. He was a Muslim and a good person. He came out and lived in leprosy colonies."

In an account he wrote of his life, Salahuddin described his motivation in wanting to establish Rock Land Colony. "What we wanted was to build a colony where normal healthy people and cured individuals would live side by side, leaving aside any fear of disease and differences of caste and creed…

"I realized that the first step would be to counsel the people living in the surrounding area about our objective. We began by speaking to them, and trying to make them understand that leprosy was not a punishment for one's sins; neither was it a contagious disease. We tried to emphasize the point that those who were fully cured had every right to lead a normal, healthy life with other normal, healthy people."

Today Rock Island Colony is an integrated community with many amenities owned and operated by people who once had leprosy. It stands as a monument to its founder's vision.