Crutches and wheelchairs cannot be used inside temples as they are made of leather parts
Persons with disability live with discrimination every day. While the physically challenged and the visually impaired battle the lack of accessibility, for the speech and hearing impaired, it is the acute shortage of interpreters that hurts most.
At a programme organised by bank employees with hearing and speech impairment, I came across scores of men and women who had made the trip from little-known towns in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. They wished to voice several concerns but there was only one interpreter for hundreds of employees.
Alka Nanda Joshi, a professional interpreter with the State Commissioner for Persons with Disability in Bhubaneswar, owes her career to her parents who are hearing impaired. At the programme, she was interpreter for the bank employees gathered there.
Most of them complained of exploitation. Their work hours were long, sometimes almost 12 hours. “I stay in office until 8 p.m.,” said a young male clerk from Gujarat.
Another woman from Punjab, who had to work to support her family, wanted out but could not do so. A woman employee from Tiruvalla in Kerala spoke of a couple of her customers — a mother and daughter — both hearing and speech impaired. The mother wanted her daughter to study and sought an educational loan. Despite visiting the bank repeatedly over months, the loan had not materialised. “Why is it that they delay even loans? It hurts me,” the bank officer said through her interpreter. The struggle to be accepted was a daily issue, thanks to lack of understanding, another employee said.
If speech- and hearing-impaired persons face a kind of discrimination, those using callipers, crutches and wheelchairs face another kind altogether. They are not allowed to use their physical aids inside temples but are expected to be carried in.
The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments board maintains temple priests must take a call on this. Priests cite the Agama rules which prohibit the use of leather within temple premises. Leather is used to make crutches, callipers and wheelchairs.
S. Namburajan, state secretary of Tamilnadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers, points out the same rules do not apply to use of leather handbags, wallets, watch straps, belts or even the mridangam. “I know it is controversial but it is also a matter of the rights of persons with disability. If temples must follow the Agama rules, why does Tirupati temple bypass them?” he said.
In answer to their appeals, last month, authorities of Tiruparankundram temple in Madurai allowed users of callipers, wheelchairs and crutches to enter the sanctum. Such persons can also seek the assistance of temple officials during visits. A press release from the temple priests said the decision was made after repeated appeals by various groups fighting for the rights of persons with disability. This move will hopefully pave the way for greater integration of persons with disability in society.