FILE - Image of Jagannath Temple in Puri, used for representational purposes only. (Photo | EPS)
FILE - Image of Jagannath Temple in Puri, used for representational purposes only. (Photo | EPS)

Puri temple access for PWDs A boon

If everything goes as planned, the Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri will soon end the centuries-old problem of persons with disabilities (PwDs) facing barriers to enter the temple.

If everything goes as planned, the Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri will soon end the centuries-old problem of persons with disabilities (PwDs) facing barriers to enter the temple. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which preserves the religious monument, has given its nod for constructing a ramp near the northern gate to enable entry of differently-abled devotees into the temple. The Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) pitched the proposal at a recent meeting, and the ASI gave its go-ahead.

In the past, attempts were made to provide barrier-free access to the temple, which draws millions of pilgrims from around the world. Following campaigns by disability activists, the temple administration in 2015 installed a steel ramp and placed wooden wheelchairs to help PwDs reach the Ananda Bazaar. However, that did not work out well. The main shrine remained out-of-bounds because wheelchairs were allowed only until the Lion’s Gate. Beyond that, the differently-abled had to be physically carried inside. This was met with some reservations, for it posed risks to people with neurological injuries.

The matter went to the Orissa High Court last year after a petition invoking the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act sought access to the shrine. The court instructed the managing committee of SJTA and its chief administrator to take a lawful decision within a month. Since the temple body took time, two contempt petitions were filed and the HC issued show-cause notices as well.

During this period, the Mukti Mandap, the highest seat of scholars of the Jagannath Temple, threw its weight behind providing access to PwDs. As things stand today, a ramp made of stone will soon allow wheelchairs carrying people with mobility and visual impairments directly into the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, finally ensuring inclusivity in access.

The move also comes as the Centre conducts an access audit of 14 popular shrines under the tourism ministry’s PRASAD scheme. The Jagannath Temple is one of them. The removal of barriers in Srimandir will not only come as a boon to thousands of devotees who were earlier deprived of darshan of the deities but also set an example for other ancient shrines in the country to follow. It will also be a glowing testament to inclusivity, the core philosophy of Jagannath culture.

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The New Indian Express
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