THE Hindu members of the Damai Disabled Persons Association Malaysia (Damai) have only one wish when they celebrated Ponggal recently; that is to get the chance to pray in a temple like other able bodied devotees.
“We want to enter a temple, any temple, pray and move about independently.
“Most temples do not have disabled-friendly infrastructure, so we could not go in or are often forced to seek help to conduct prayers,” said Damai president V. Murugeswaran.
One of the temples which had all the facilities for the disabled was the Sri Ramalinges-warar Temple in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur and that was where Damai members chose to have their Ponggal celebration.
Jointly organised by Damai and the Malaysia Hindu Dharma Maamandram, the event saw about 100 devotees for prayers on Ponggal Day.
Three pots of “ponggal” (sweet rice) were made at the celebration, which also involved a competition to see which team could cook the ponggal first.
Murugeswaran, who has worked with many temples to try and get more disabled-friendly facilities installed in them, said the task was indeed a challenge.
“For a start, we have to convince the temple committees that it is a worthwhile investment. Then we have to go about helping them with the measurements for certain facilities, such as ramps and other finer details,” he said.
At the moment, there are about 10 temples in the Klang Valley with facilities for the disabled, with more coming up in Penang and Ipoh.
Murugeswaran said it was important for temples to be accessible to all, regardless of physical abilities.
“I have been to many temples that have turned me away because I could not wash my feet the way able-bodied devotees do before entering the temple.
“We are not asking for special treatment. We just want to pray. If the temples do not allow us in, where are we to go?” he added.
Damai has yet to give up hope and its Hindu members aspire one day to be able to visit the temples at the top of Batu Caves on their own.
“We have faith that one day, we will have some form of access, like a funicular train or a cable car, to get us up there,” said Murugeswaran.
Disabled devotees are usually carried up the steps of Batu Caves by able-bodied people who may slip on the steps, resulting in possible injuries.