Multa Fidrus, Tangerang – Disgusting. That might be the comment that most people would make when seeing them begging on the street or at other public places here.
About 15 recovered lepers with dry skin, large open sores and blood seeping from their knuckles, wrists or amputated legs sit orderly in five rows at the intersection of Jl. Veteran and Jl. TMP Taruna, Tangerang. Braving the heat of the sun, they stretch out their hands to passing motorists, asking for money.
"This intersection is a safe site for us to beg, otherwise, we would not be able to survive," said 37-year old Kalim, who contracted leprosy when he was seven years old. "I tried begging at road intersections in Jakarta on three separate occasions, but each time I was caught by city public order officers who then sent me to Kedoya Quarantine in West Jakarta," said Kalim, referring to the shelter belonging to the city's social agency.
Kalim, from Karawang, West Java, lives with some 450 other recovered lepers at Lorong Lima in a complex provided by Sitanala Hospital, located behind the hospital in Neglasari subdistrict, Tangerang. Kalim said recovered lepers used to receive monthly food supplies from the hospital. But, since the hospital opened its doors to patients suffering from other diseases a few years ago, each of the recovered lepers only receives 10 kilograms of rice a month, Kalim said, adding that he heard the supply would be halted next December.
"Who is willing to employ a disabled and disgusting man like me?" said Kalim, who is married to a healthy woman and is a father of a 16-month-old baby.
Nurhasanah, 19, who lost her left leg, said she contracted leprosy when she was 10 years old. All her family members, who live in Bogor, had not visited her during the past six years. "This is my fate and I have to face it alone. I feel sad when I remember being rejected by my family when I once returned home. I have decided to never return to them. I enjoy living as a beggar in Tangerang," said the woman who had married a recovered leper.
Diman Sudarno, 46, who caught the disease in the early 1980s said that he had to beg for money to buy medicine and to feed his two healthy children and his 35-year-old wife called Umi. He rents a small makeshift house for Rupiah 65,000 per month in the leprosy complex.
All recovered lepers who become beggars deny the allegation that they are organized by certain people or a certain group to beg. They said that on average they were able to bring home Rupiah 6,000 after spending eight hours begging at the intersection. "We have to spend Rp 4,000 to rent a becak (pedicab) for transportation. If the rain pours down we have no choice, but to return home because there is no shelter," 52-year old Maah, a mother of six children, who had spent five years at Sintanala Hospital said. "Rain is the only thing we are afraid of as lepers cannot stand cold weather," she added.
She said all her children live in Pademangan subdistrict, North Jakarta. Although her children do not reject her, Maah realized that her presence would only bring embarrassment to her children.
Meanwhile, Samsul Ma'arif, head of Tangerang Community Empowerment Office, which is responsible for the handling of beggars, alleged that the beggars were used by certain groups to make money. "They are purposely dropped by a certain group of people to beg for money on Jl. Veteran-Jl. TMP Taruna traffic lights," Samsul told the Post.
He said the Tangerang municipal administration had no money allocated for beggars even though Mayor M. Thamrin had given a positive response to the budget proposal made by the office in August. "The only thing we can do now is to curb the increase in the number of beggars," he said. But he failed to elaborate on the measures to do so.