The University Grants Commission has written to universities across India asking them to consider free higher education for children of lepers, prodded by recommendations of a Parliament panel that expressed concerns over the community's educational status.
The Parliamentary Committee on Petitions had asked the HRD ministry to initiate measures to provide free education from school through higher education to children of lepers, a community that is still often discriminated against.
The HRD ministry will also communicate the panel's recommendations to state governments, which run school education, government sources have told HT.
India is home to the world's largest population of lepers. The disease has largely been eradicated from the rest of the world.
The parliamentary panel recommended that the government focus on 'leper colonies' – settlements which serve virtually as ghettos of lepers, scattered across the country.
India is estimated to have over 1000 such leper colonies.
"Even if completely free higher education cannot be provided, universities can certainly try and provide scholarships and fellowships for children of lepers," a source said.
With their parents often ostracised by large sections of society, the children of lepers – especially those who live in ghetto colonies – miss out on opportunities available to other children their age, the Parliament panel observed.
The lack of adequate schooling opportunities hampers their education, and makes it hard for them to pursue higher studies, the panel noted.
Questioning the government's lack of measures targeted at assisting these children, the panel argued that free education would incentivise these children to study and may help them enter the formal job market.