LETTER: My experience at Purple Fest in Goa, India

Mohan Arikonda
Technical Supporting Officer
Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL), India

Mohan started painting in 2016 after completing his leprosy treatment and while searching for livelihood opportunities. He sells his paintings through Atypical Advantage, India’s largest livelihood platform for Persons with Disabilities (PWD). 

I am Mohan Arikonda. I am a person facing the challenges posed by the disease of leprosy. I am delighted to share that I recently had the opportunity to participate in the International Purple Festival held in Goa, Jan. 8–13, 2024, thanks to the generous support of the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative.

The International Purple Festival, India’s trailblazing inclusive celebration of persons with disabilities, extends a warm invitation to a realm of limitless possibilities. Here, unity takes center stage, and diversity is embraced with open arms. At the heart of the festival lies the esteemed group of 22 Purple Ambassadors, each representing one of the 21 types of disabilities outlined in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016.

During the festival, I participated in the Live Painting and Exhibition event under the distinguished category of Leprosy Cured Persons. It was a profound honor to showcase my artistic skills and deliver my best performance, contributing to the vibrant and enriching atmosphere of the event. The event management team’s notable efforts were evident in the well-organized and inclusive interventions, which created opportunities for income generation, provided special care and arrangements, facilitated accessible travel arrangements, and offered instant help through a system of volunteers. I was also impressed by the organizers’ commitment to treating all participants and their guardians with equal respect and consideration, which added to the overall positive experience.

I had the privilege of contributing to the Leprosy Convention held on Day 5 of the festival. Supporting organizations included The Leprosy Mission, Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, and the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People. During the convention, I expounded to the audience on the significance of the various activities undertaken by APAL in rehabilitating individuals impacted by leprosy and their families, with the aim of restoring their dignity and integrating them back into mainstream society.

As a person affected by leprosy, my biggest takeaway from my painful experiences is the fear of stigma and discrimination. This fear can often render individuals affected by the disease apprehensive about their future. It is noteworthy that the term “afraid” has become synonymous with leprosy. The adverse impact of this social stigma is evident in the poor living conditions and lack of livelihood opportunities that affected individuals often face, leading to a sense of despair and loss of confidence. Creating opportunities for sustainable livelihoods and promoting a supportive social environment can facilitate a sense of hope and empowerment among individuals affected by leprosy. I have learned that, despite the challenges, those affected by the disease must remain optimistic and avail themselves of available resources to overcome their predicament.

I extend my sincere gratitude to the Initiative for enabling me to be a part of such a significant platform, one that fosters inclusivity and empowerment for individuals with disabilities. 

Mohan Arikonda shows his artwork along with other participants in the Live Painting and Exhibition event at the International Purple Festival held in Goa, India, Jan. 8–13, 2024.
Mohan Arikonda began painting as part of a search for livelihood opportunities.