Puja pandals in Kolkata remain out of bounds for the disabled

Subhankar Manna touched the messages on the walls of the pandal at Ballygunge Samaj Sevi — said to be in Braille — but could not make much sense out of them. The Durga Puja of this well-known south Kolkata club has been much touted this year for being inclusive. Therefore it was on the priority list of Subhankar and his two other para athlete friends, who ventured out to soak in the festivities on Sunday night. The two others, Bachu Bera and Bilas Sana, suffering from almost 100% visual disability, also said that the characters in Braille were too close, with not enough spaces. However, hiding their disappointment, the three were taken to an installation of the Goddess made of iron nail. All three kept touching the installation for several minutes, then held their hands together in prayer and profusely thanked the organisers before leaving. Curt message Just a few minutes earlier, a group of 14 para athletes, with locomotor and visual disabilities, were discouraged from visiting two big-ticket Puja celebrations in the same neighbourhood of south Kolkata. “There might be an accident. If you don’t mind can you bring these people tomorrow morning,” an organiser at the Tridhara Sammilani told their guide. The response at Ballygunge Cultural was more direct: “There is a lot of crowd, we cannot accommodate them now.” “The community Durga Pujas in West Bengal are referred as sarbajanin (open to all), but people with disability hardly have any access to them,” said Abhirupa Kar of Civilian Welfare Foundation (CWF), a non-government organisation working with para athletes. Most of the nine pandals, which the para athletes and the CWF volunteers visited on Sunday evening and the early hours of Monday, lacked ramps or separate entrance for people with disability or with wheelchairs. Among the para athletes present in the group, Taskura Khatun and Ajibur Rahman Mollah could not move without a wheelchair. While Ms. Taskura had brought her own wheelchair, it was Ajibur who faced the challenge at a pandal in Salt Lake which required a long walk.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/puja-pandals-in-kolkata-remain-out-of-bounds-for-the-disabled/article25232151.ece

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