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South Kolkata Durga Puja goes inclusive, reaches out to children with autism & families

Bengal's most awaited festival Durga Puja is around the corner and preparations have begun. For the second year in a row, Samaj Sebi Sangha, one of Kolkata's most celebrated pujas, is going inclusive. This time the organisers are reaching out to children with autism and their families.

The colour, chaos, and lights of Bengal's celebrated Durga Puja festival makes it a much looked forward to affair. The religious and cultural aspect aside, there's also a strong social message that various pandals state take up every year. This year, for the second time in a row, the Samaj Sebi Sangha, one of Kolkata's most famous pujos, is embracing inclusion.

Last year organisers here went all out to make the pandal accessible to blind and low vision people with Durga mantras in Braille to the idol of the goddess made with iron nails. This year, they are collaborating with the NGO Autism Society West Bengal (AWSB) to ensure that children with autism and their families/caregivers can enjoy the festivities.

"Samaj Sebi Sangha in South Kolkata is one of the city's biggest pujos and it is wonderful that they are reaching out to people with autism", says Tapati Ghosh, Chairman, AWSB.

The collaboration is not just during the Durga Puja but is all year long.

"We invited children with autism to perform the Khuti Puja ceremony on the mandap foundation day", says Arijit Maitra, General Secretary, Samaj Sebi Sangha. "We also invited students of ASWB to perform a short drama on stage on Durga Puja". The children were part of Independence Day and Raksha Bandhan celebrations as well with rakhis exchanged between the students of the NGO and children of the pujo committee members.

The committee has also used its funds to buy equipment needed by the NGO. "They asked us to send a wish list of things and contributed computers, chairs, steel cupboards, etc., that were needed for our office, school and vocational centres", says Ghosh.

To ensure that children with autism can enjoy the pujo experience in a sensory friendly manner, many steps are being taken.

There will be a separate entrance area for the children and their families and care will be taken that they don't have to wait for a long time and can enjoy the festivities in a hassle-free manner. Since our children don't like loud sounds or noises, we are looking into this aspect as well. Some of the children can wear headphones if needed. We are very happy with the steps being taken. - Tapati Ghosh, Chairman, Autism Society West Bengal

Maitra says the idea is to use the 10-day festival to create awareness about autism and the need for inclusion as well.

"We always think of a puja with a purpose and when we think of doing something for the community, we always think of including the underprivileged or people with disabilities. We thought why not include families with children with autism, so the joy is shared".

ALSO READ: A Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata that is accessible to visually impaired people

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