|Indiranagar Colony residents (top) show their Bank of India passbooks, thanks to which some of them have been able
to install dish antennae (middle) on thatched roofs of their homes. Sri Sri Daya Mata Leprosy Seva Kendra (above) in Jagannathpur, Ranchi, takes care of their medical needs. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
Strides in medical science notwithstanding, people afflicted with leprosy continue to be social castaways for no fault of theirs.
That’s why, when a young Ranchi bank manager visited their colony at Indiranagar, Jagannathpur, last year and asked them to save their earnings from begging, little did she know the difference she would make in their lives.
Around 200 residents have accounts with Bank of India at the state secretariat in Dhurwa, says its branch manager Sulekha Kachhap, whose team initiative brought about the change in a little over six months.
“We organised an awareness camp last year at Indiranagar Colony. We thought encouraging leprosy patients to save earnings in a bank was a good way to bring dignity and financial security in their lives,” Kachchap said.
The change is visible.
Raja Ram Mahto (63), one of those to have an account at the branch, said: “I have saved Rs 5,000. For the first time, we have savings. Every month, my wife Gauriya Puran and I visit the bank to save money.”
Like any other elderly couple, they were worried about where money would come from during illness. Both husband and wife beg and rear goats for a living.
“After we started saving money at the bank, we feel confident,” Mahto said.
Puran added with a smile: “We have bought a small TV set as well. If all goes well, we may buy a fridge.” On her own, the woman has saved Rs 6,000 in a separate account.
Regular customers at the bank do stare at their deformities or look away. But used to social ostracism, they don’t care. The glimpse of mainstream financial security and the novelty of going to the bank are enough for now.
“What can I say? There is stigma due to our disease. We don’t have skilled jobs. Also, many of us lack fingers to work. But I have saved Rs 8,000 from begging. My family of wife and two sons encourage me to save,” said another account holder Jai Narayan Ganesh (58).
His wife Subhadra Ganesh said this was for the first time that they had ever saved money apart from the odd bundles in saris. She added their son Birendra Ganesh was in Raipur, getting technical training.
“He won’t have to beg,” she said proudly.
Kano Kindo (38) said their way of looking at life changed after going to the bank.
“We are also people. We also dream of sending our children to school, watching TV, eating a full meal. I am saving Rs 400 per month in the bank and sending my three children to school
Kachhap said she sensed their pride. “They hire an auto and come to the bank. They take great care of their passbooks. Their initial ignorance and reluctance have given way to enthusiasm and pride,” she said.
The five-decades-old Indiranagar Colony, 10km from city limits, has 200 households and 700 residents including children.
Sri Daya Mata Leprosy Seva Kendra, Indiranagar, a private charitable Trust, treats them.
What other measures can be taken to improve the lives of leprosy patients? Tell [email protected]