Invisible dirt is allowed, people with filthy minds and filthier acts are allowed, but people on wheelchairs are not allowed at places of worship in India. Isn't it time to stop this discrimination?
Many places of worship in India do not allow people on wheelchairs to enter their premises or the sanctum sanctorum as a policy. This is extremely demeaning, hurtful and insulting form of racism, apartheid and discrimination. Freedom to travel may be written in our constitution but there are several man-made barriers and impediments in the form of policies and concepts that are being propagated since time immemorial. So far people with disabilities have succumbed to these dictums, pressures as well as illogical thinking and retreated sadly. Consider that many people:
Use spectacles for low vision and poor eyesight
Use hearing aids for poor hearing
Neck belts and waist belts for pain
A pacemaker for proper heart functioning
Artificial limbs (hands/legs) for mobility
Artificial dentures as a substitute for teeth
And some of us use wheel chairs. And yet, disabled are stopped from entering many places of worship.
Places of worship allow wife-beaters, molesters, murderers, robbers, swindlers, alcoholics, smugglers, cheaters, kidnappers and more. People, who harm our environment by polluting our rivers, cutting trees and throwing garbage, are also allowed. Visibly there is no way to know the purity of a person. They look perfect. And so such people are allowed everywhere; freely without any barriers. People like us who have visible signs of being on wheelchairs are barred! This is done under the pretext that the wheelchairs are impure and filthy. Invisible dirt is allowed, people with filthy minds and filthier acts are allowed, but people on wheelchairs are not! Weird.
Nina Foundation celebrates its FOUNDER’S DAY on 9th March every year by organising a ‘Spiritual Outing’ for all its friends with spinal injury and their family members. All of us have, due to an accident, incident or disease, obtained a spinal injury. World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it as the most devastating disability and which is a permanent disability without any cure! Our legs, hands, bladder, bowel, skin, bones, muscular strength, respiration, digestion all are affected. We use aids like wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, callipers, splints for our mobility.
The reason Nina Foundation commenced this ‘Spiritual Outing’ activity was more to express our point of view and thinking to the ‘Managers’ of these spiritual places for the need to have a paradigm shift. Religion and India are synonymous. It was heartening to learn that both foreigners Steve Jobs (Apple) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) started their journey of glory by first visiting a temple in India. Aren’t heads of such institutions supposed to be more enlightened and aware about the needs and emotions of the human race per se?
We, the friends with disability are a huge constituency (80 million X 4 average number of family members=320 million people). We do not want to impose or force anyone, but this issue of transparent apartheid, definitely deserves to be uppermost in the consciousness of an educated and civilised nation!
The original thought by our great leaders seems to have been enveloped by cloudy thinking, by the current gatekeepers of our revered religious institutions. Gandhiji suffered racism, Vivekananda suffered racism and yet they became global leaders. We as followers seem to have lost our way.
Who truly needs solace, peace, ray of hope and joy? Those people whose life has suddenly altered due to a life-changing event like an accident. We not only have lost our limbs, but also our hope to live. Going outdoors gives us some semblance of a ‘fulfilled life’. Praying and being blessed in a place of worship gives us hope and joy. Being denied entry anywhere due to our wheelchairs makes us ‘feel’ disabled; mentally and physically.
The day we have an ‘inclusive’ mind-set when we treat every human being with dignity, respect and equality without any discrimination –- we can say “There is GOD in each one of us and we all are free and equal”! Let’s all work together towards that day.
(Dr Ketna L Mehta is an educationist, editor, author and Founder Trustee of Nina Foundation that works for the rehabilitation of economically and socially disadvantaged people with spinal injuries. Her PhD Thesis was “Market Potential Study for a World Class Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Mumbai”. She is also Editor and Associate Dean Research, WeSchool. Email- [email protected], www.ninafoundation.org)