Professor Stephen Hawking's wish to see Taj Mahal remained unfulfilled during India visit

As the world celebrates the many achievements of Professor Stephen Hawking who passed away on Wednesday, a story about his visit to India is worth recounting.

About 17 years ago, when Professor Hawking had come to India, he expressed a wish to see monuments like the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Jantar Mantar, Qutub Minar and the Taj Mahal. He even wrote to the late Javed Abidi, who was then the Honorary Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).

Mr Abidi gave the letter to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Officials there said that not a single change could be made to a historical monument to make it accessible.

Dr Hawking was able to see only the Qutub Minar and Jantar Mantar, where temporary ramps had then been placed. The wish to see the Taj Mahal remained unfulfilled.

Apparently his visit was the reason why many of our historic monuments were later made disabled-friendly. That includes the Taj Mahal.

Dr Hawking’s desire to see the monuments had put ASI officials in a spot. They were pushed to make famous structures accessible. This was something that India's disabled community had been demanding for a long time. It got acted upon only after Dr Hawking’s visit.

Soon after he left, the then Tourism Minister, Ananth Kumar announced plans to make all world heritage sites in India, including the Taj Mahal, accessible.

However, it was only in 2016, 15 years after Dr Hawking’s visit, that a joint initiative by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) and the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) decided to upgrade 50 prominent monuments, and make them accessible to the disabled.

This included plans to build disabled-friendly toilets, Braille signages, tactile floors, or pathways, railings, and ramps.

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