The Balkrishna Nagar Colony near Court Station in Purnia was built for leprosy patients by a former District Magistrate, Balkrishna Chauhan, on land donated for the purpose by one Beer Narayan Chand, alias Mol Babu. Today, it has nearly 100 families living here most of whose members are leprosy patients. The residents of this colony have very little to cheer about usually but, these days, the place is suffused with uncharacteristic optimism.
After nearly two years of tireless effort, Sarita Devi, a local woman who is also a teacher, has finally succeeded in motivating the children of the leprosy patients to take their education seriously. And what has everybody surprised here is that the children of the colony have begun studying hard.
Mol Babu and Balkrishna Chauhan wanted to give leprosy patients of the town a place they could call their own. Former Chief Minister Bindeshwari Dubey formally inaugurated the colony on April 25, 1987.
Later, another District Magistrate of Purnia, RS Sharma, took much interest in the development of the rehabilitation colony and the welfare of its residents. He got Neem trees planted around the place to help purify the colony air. Sarita Devi recalled that even Mother Teresa, who had visited the place once, had praised the efforts of the District Magistrate. Sarita Devi was so inspired by the simplicity of the Mother that she resolved to work for the welfare of the leprosy victims. These days, she teaches the children of the colony from 7 am to 10 am each day.
"I have been able to do more for the children here ever since I was appointed as a teacher under the Bihar Education Project (BEP)," Sarita Devi said, adding that her students in the colony had realised that good education was the only means by which they could overcome the stigma of being the children of leprosy patients.
How deeply entrenched in society the prejudice against leprosy patients is can be assessed from the fact that despite the efforts of Sarita Devi, most children of this colony still beg every Saturday to add to the meagre earnings of their families. The silver lining is that some of them have acquired self-respect and prefer becoming rickshaw-pullers and daily wage earners to becoming beggars.
A resident of the colony, Rekha Devi, who is a mother of six children, said she would never allow her children to feel condemned for being a leper's children. "We are determined that we will educate our children," said another resident, Sattan Rishi. He further said that if the Government made some special arrangement for the education of the colony's children, they would have a better chance of leading a dignified life. "Our children still face discrimination in government schools," he said.