Disability access ‘worsens’ in Kolkata’s Durga Puja pandals On October 9, when the city was soaking up the Durga Puja festivities, Rubia Chatterjee, national gold medallist para athlete, decided to go pandal hopping with other para athletes. She was shocked to find that she could not enter many of the pandals . “It was horrible. I was accompanied by another para athlete Sandhya Mondal, who was walking with crutches. She fell down at various places,” Ms. Chaterjee told The Hindu . Ms. Chaterjee, who was a part of a group of ten sportspersons, had informed major Puja pandals of their visit. Many of the pandals have average footfalls of 4 lakh people per day and are constructed at a cost of several crores of rupees. Ms. Chatterjee and Ms. Sandhya found no wheelchairs or ramps or even volunteers to help them. The ‘Disability Access to Durga Puja Pandals in Kolkata: 2016’ survey of 14 marquees conducted by the Kolkata-based Civilian Welfare Foundation (CWF) echoes these findings. CWF’s Abhirupa Kar, who has been involved in documenting disability access at Durga Pujas pandals for the past three years, said that the situation has worsened this time instead of improving . “There is so much competition among Durga Puja organisers for awards but the basic question of accessibility to the disabled is far from receiving the serious attention of organisers,” she told The Hindu . The report points out that giving the disabled a restricted view of a pandal or asking them visit only in the mornings just shows the organisers’ “discrimination, and lack of sensitivity and understanding with regards to the disabled population”. The report also points out that most of the pandals have staircases, “thus rejecting the person with a disability to the major attractions of the pandals ”. Ms. Kar said that despite the Central government’s Accessible India campaign, no effort has been made to include the disabled part in the celebrations for the festive season. “The situation relating to accessibility for the disabled has not improved over the past three years,” she said. “At a time when the State government wants to showcase Durga Puja as a major carnival, it cannot remain ignorant to the organisers’ apathy in keeping a significant population out the celebrations.”
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