.- A British Catholic religious sister, compared to Mother Teresa for her three decades of work with leprosy victims, says she'll remain in India indefinitely now that her visa troubles are resolved.
On July 27, Indian Home Affairs Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram announced that 63-year-old Sister Jacqueline Jean McEwan, known as “Sister Jean,” can “stay as long as she likes.” He said the government's previous order, which would have forced her to leave on one week's notice, was “a mistake, presumably based on the grounds that complete documents had not been submitted.”
“There is no meaning in going back to U.K. when my people are here,” Sr. Jean told the Times of India on July 25, declaring her intention to remain in Bangalore among her “own kith and kin … those inflicted with leprosy.”
On July 26 she told Britain's Daily Mail that she felt “overjoyed and very confident that I would live here forever,” after receiving an initial one-month reprieve that was extended indefinitely the next day.
Sr. Jean, a member of the Montfort Missionaries, had previously received a government order denying her December 2010 request for an extension of her resident status. The order would have ended her work at Bangalore's Sumanahalli Society, where she has helped leprosy sufferers since her arrival as a volunteer in 1982.
The unexplained order came as a shock to Sr. Jean – for whom the visa renewal had been an annual formality – and brought sadness to the community.
“Even people on the streets told me they were praying for the extension of my visa,” she told Calcutta's Telegraph newspaper.
The British-born sister came within hours of boarding a flight back to England, where she was planning to continue the visa application process in order to return.
“Nobody would look after leprosy patients like her,” said Mastan Saab, Sr. Jean's field coordinator. “Without her, we are in the dark.”
He told the Times of India that the British-born sister was instrumental not only in caring for the immediate physical needs of those with leprosy, but also in helping them find education and
Sr. Jean lives and works at the Sumanahalli Society, a facility with four clinics and a rehabilitation center for people with HIV/AIDS and other disabilities as well as leprosy. Although India's government claims to have “eliminated” leprosy by World Health Organization standards, 130,000 Indians still develop the disease each year.
The purported “elimination” of the disease in 2005 allowed the government to end funding for services many leprosy sufferers relied on.
The Sumanahalli Society's in-patient facilities provide care for 340 patients, while Sr. Jean's mobile clinic gives additional assistance to almost 1,000 people with leprosy in the slums of Bangalore.
Father George Kannanthanam, the society's director, told the Guardian newspaper that she “knows every leprosy patient by name, even though Indian names are difficult.”
The priest says there is no one else available to take care of the clinics “who is as trained and committed as Sister Jean.”