Of Sympathy, Empathy, and Irrational Temples
Misguided objectives of holy places
I'm back from an amazing vacation to Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Humanity as a whole needs to learn a lot from these scenic islands and this will be the topic of my next post. In this post, I want to elaborate on why even in the 21st century, we still don't treat people equally.
Since there is no direct flight from Port Blair in Andamans to Mumbai, a connecting flight via Chennai or Kolkata needs to be taken. I chose Kolkata and was roaming around in Kolkata when I had a harrowing experience at the two temples I visited. The first temple was the Dakshineswar Temple. In order to go to the sanctum sanctorum where the holy deity is kept, a flight of steps needs to be ascended. Now, since I'm in a wheelchair, my father asked the guards to assist in lifting my wheelchair. They flatly refused saying wheelchairs aren't allowed inside near the deity. My parents approached the temple management, and the following conversation shows the rude treatment we received.
Dad (D): Please allow the wheelchair to be lifted inside the sanctum.
Temple management (T): Wheelchairs aren't allowed. Carry the boy and go inside.
D: My son is 18 years old, and I can't carry him for long periods of time. Why don't you allow wheelchairs inside?
T: (getting angry) DON'T ASK WHY!! IF YOU WANT TO SEE THE DEITY, CARRY YOUR SON AND GO. IF NOT DON'T!!
Does religion teach discrimination or preach equality? I always thought the latter, but this incident makes me think otherwise. What makes us, the disabled, the differently abled, so inhuman that we can't take our wheelchairs inside a temple? Did our wheelchairs commit a sin? We got the same response even when we visited the temples inside Belur Math. In the end after a bit of fighting, they reluctantly allowed the wheelchair inside.
The attitude of the people in these religious institutions is primitive, rigid, and inhuman. They refuse to change with the times.
According to them, people like us who are disabled are inferior people and don't deserve admittance. This is a thought process which doesn't belong to the 21st century. There is no reason at all why wheelchairs shouldn't be allowed near the deity. You can very well see their attitude in the conversation snippet above. People show oodles of sympathy to the disabled. But that's not what we want.
It is Empathy.
Sympathy is saying, "Poor chap." Empathy is saying, "Poor chap. Let me see how I can help you." That's what is important. What the priests at Dakshineswar did lacked empathy. Empathy is the need of the hour. Nobody needs sympathy. Everyone shows sympathy. But only a few people show empathy. Empathy is feeling what the other person feels. Empathy comes from the heart. Empathy is compassion. When a person on a wheelchair can't ascend a flight of stairs to a temple, empathy is helping him go up. Not telling him that wheelchairs pollute the temple and are sinful.
I have experienced incidents like these in the past with other temples too. The Golden Temple at Vellore meted out similar treatment to me. The wheelchair wasn't allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum because the tires are supposedly similar to shoes and pollute the temple premises. This shows us how primitive the attitudes of so-called religious leaders are.
I take this opportunity to tell the management of Belur Math, Dakshineswar Temple, Vellore Golden Temple, and other temples which hold similar beliefs to forget traditions and rituals for a second and think as an ordinary human being who is in a wheelchair. Also, I want them to think what God would feel about this. Would God not allow his children into a temple just because they happen to be in a wheelchair? Think about it.
At this point, I must also acknowledge the temples which have been very kind to me - and I am very grateful to them. The Chilkur Temple near Hyderabad, Satyanarayana Swami Temple in Annavaram, Kamakshi Temple in Kanchipuram, and Narasimha Swami Temple in Simhachalam went out of their way to ensure that I did not face any difficulty in seeing God in all His splendor.
Before you go to sleep tonight, think for a moment what you would do if you were in the temple management. Would you allow my wheelchair inside or leave me in the lurch outside and order my father to carry me? Would you show empathy or sympathy?