It was a challenge that the Palani temple administration took upon itself these past few weeks and succeeded at it too – the rehabilitation of 108 persons from the foothills, who were found begging, those abandoned by their families, persons with disabilities, those needing de-addiction and even some with mental illnesses.
Joining hands with volunteers from various agencies including Social Welfare Department, Police, Atchayam Trust, an Erode-based NGO, and students of Arulmigu Palani Andavae College in Palani, the temple managed to communicate with these persons and bring them to one place where they were counselled.
“It was a daunting task since many were non-communicative. They would even beat us with sticks or bite and slap us. But at the end of it all, when they were bathed, cleaned and neatly robed, it seemed worth all the trouble,” said a volunteer.
“Families also prefer to leave those with illnesses here since it is believed that the deity has medicinal properties and will cure them. The numbers are less since it is off-season. Usually, during the season the number of such persons swells to around 300,” said a temple official.
Of the 108 persons rescued, 18 chose to go back home, three were sent for psychiatric care, around 60 to oldage homes, three abled bodied persons to Atchayam Trust’s centre for re-skilling.
A few of them went missing.
A former official of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department said that many temples in the State have similar issues. However, since there is no standard operating procedure to deal with beggars and destitute persons, they are given food and told to stay at the temple entrances.
“Two temples had oldage homes but those do not function at present. The Act stipulates that homes be established and maintained for the destitute, the helpless and persons with disabilities. But temples no longer seem to be performing such services,” he said.
Another former official pointed out that many orphanages managed by temples too are no longer functional.
“These spaces can be put to use by having a tie up with the Social Welfare department so that socially disadvantaged children can be helped. The government used to provide an annual grant for these children,” he said.