Showing posts with label Access to Places of Worship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Access to Places of Worship. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Kerala HC takes Suo Motu notice of Accessibility Challenges in Places of Worship in Kerala [Judgement Included]

Court: Kerala High Court, India
Bench: Justices Anil K Narendran and Harisankar V Menon
Case No: DBP No. 25 of 2024
Case Title:  Suo motu v. State of Kerala
Date of Hearing: 27 March 2024
Next Date of Hearing: 20 May 2024


In a landmark move highlighting the significance of inclusivity within religious spaces, the Kerala High Court has taken a proactive stance by addressing the accessibility concerns of physically disabled individuals in temples. The court's recent suo motu cognizance of a devotee's plea underscores the imperative of ensuring that all worshippers have equal opportunities to participate fully in religious practices, regardless of physical ability.

The suo motu notice, initiated on March 27, 2024, stems from a heartfelt complaint by a woman devotee who faced barriers in accessing the 'Naalambalam' (sanctum sanctorum) of temple due to her physical disability. She sought permission for wheelchair access within temple premises to enable herself and others like her to engage in darshan, a sacred visual communion with the deities.

The bench, led by Justices Anil K Narendran and Harisankar V Menon, appointed Advocate V Ramkumar Nambiar as an amicus curiae, highlighting the court's commitment to a thorough examination of the issue. This proactive approach signifies a broader effort to reconcile religious customs with the principles of equality and inclusivity enshrined in international human rights instruments particularly the UN Conventionon the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Constitution of India and Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 among others.

At the core of this case lies the fundamental right to practice one's religion, a right that should be accessible to all without discrimination. The denial of wheelchair access not only impedes individuals' freedom to worship but also raises pertinent questions about societal treatment towards the disabled community.

The petitioner's poignant experience of being carried by relatives to partake in darshan underscores the significant challenges faced by many in accessing religious services. Moreover, the difficulty in viewing the deities from a seated position on the ground further accentuates the sense of exclusion felt by disabled devotees.

As the case progresses, it presents a unique opportunity to strike a balance between respecting religious traditions and ensuring equal access for all worshippers. The outcome of this legal deliberation could set a precedent for how religious institutions accommodate the needs of disabled individuals, fostering a more inclusive approach to spiritual practice.

The next hearing scheduled for May 20, 2024, holds great anticipation for advocates of disability rights and religious organizations alike. It marks a crucial juncture in the ongoing discourse and implementation of legal mandate surrounding inclusivity in religious spaces and underscores the pivotal role of the judiciary in upholding the dignity and rights of every individual.

Importantly, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act of 2016 defines public buildings, and public services including places of worship like temples, within its scope. The Act mandates accessibility standards to be implemented within a specified timeframe with the accessibility standards issued under the Act. Incidently, the Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Government of India, a nodal authority under section 40 of the RPWD Act 2016 had also issued sectoral guidelines titled,"Guidelines for Making Religious Places Accessible" in 2019. These guidelines outline measures to make religious places accessible, emphasizing the importance of compliance with disability rights legislation.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy to mention the Delhi State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities' order in Case No. 247/1101/2018/05/6629-6644  dated 15.10.2019 , which directed the all the district magistrates to ensure compliance of the provisions of the RPWD Act 2016 and accessibility standards/ guidelines issued thereunder in religious places in Delhi. This order sets a precedent for other states, highlighting the imperative for religious institutions to ensure equal access for all individuals, regardless of their physical abilities.

In conclusion, the Kerala High Court's proactive intervention in addressing accessibility issues in places of worship exemplifies a commitment to upholding the principles of equality and inclusivity. By recognizing and addressing the barriers faced by disabled individuals, the judiciary plays a pivotal role in fostering a society where all members can participate fully in religious practices, regardless of physical ability. It is equally important to address the attitudinal barriers towards persons with disabilities in the places of worship in particular and in the larger society in general.

Below is the copy of the Order dated 27 March 2024 in Suo motu v. State of Kerala