A. Murugan – Yesterday’s school drop-out -today’s shoe-maker

I was born in a tiny village in the Tirunelveli District of Tamilnadu. I lost my father when I was hardly six years old.

While in the VII Std., some pale patches appeared on my body. They did NOT hurt. Ignorant of the signs and symptoms of leprosy, my mother took me to an indigenous doctor who treated me for a few years but in vain.

Then painless ulcers occurred repeatedly deforming and disfiguring my left foot. I dropped out of school.

One day a Government Leprosy Inspector visited me. He promptly referred me to the St.Luke’s Leprosarium, one of the few centers in the entire District for in-patient care of leprosy patients with complications. With bed rest, and minor surgery, and complementary treatment, my ulcers healed.

I wanted to do something to help my fellow-leprosy victims. I offered to learn making the special footwear needed for leprosy patients with anaesthetic feet.

In our region, shoe-making and repair work is done by the so-called untouchable caste. I do not belong to this cast.

Therefore our doctor was sceptical.

“You do not belong to the traditional caste of shoe-makers.*
Your family would ostracize you later and you may quit” he argued.

But I was firm in my resolve to become a shoemaker.

The Leprosy Mission sponsored my training in shoe making at Karigiri, an internationally renowned leprosy-training centre. After one year of thorough training, I returned to Peikulam as a fully trained Shoemaker.

Now I make the protective footwear not only for leprosy patients of Peikulam Leprosarium but also for leprosy patients from other centres.

I am happily married. We have a daughter who is 14 years old.

*In the Indian Society, driven by the caste-system, the traditional shoemaker is considered an untouchable. (This is changing but painfully slowly).