From public transport and spaces to tourist sites and government offices, Kerala is on the path to make the state accessible to persons with disabilities.
Now a parallel movement is underway to make places of worship disabled-friendly.
On Monday, Mount St Thomas Major Archiepiscopal Curia, the headquarters of Syro Malabar Church in Ernakulam held a holy mass especially for persons with hearing and speech impairment.
While Mar George Cardinal Alencherry bishop delivered the mass, it was translated into sign language by Fr Biju Moolakkara and Fr George Kalarimuriyil. The two had recently completed a special training in sign language.
But no mass is complete with biblical verses and hymns. Brother Biju Thermadom and Sr Abhaya helped translate the biblical verses and hymns into sign language.
â€śIt is our duty to make sure that persons with disabilities also get the facilities to worship. In many other countries, the church provides this facility to such people. Now we also have a set of priests who are trained in it. We should know that all people whether they have disabilities or not, they are equal before god,â€ť Cardinal Alencherry said during the mass.
He also promised that all churches under the Syro Malabar diocese would also be made accessible to persons with disabilities.
â€śWherever devotees demand a special mass in sign language, it will be regularly arranged in the parishes. Everyone has the right to worship in the way they deserve,â€ť the bishop added.
Fr Jimmy Poochakkat, spokesperson of Syro Malabar church told TNM that it would be a revolutionary step to include everyone in the prayers.
â€śIn yesterdayâ€™s mass about 200 devotees participated. They were so happy that they were given a chance to worship in their language. Our aim is to extend it to other parishes too,â€ť he said.
But itâ€™s not just churches that are being made more accessible. A mosque in Malappuram district had earlier opened its platform for persons with disabilities.
Every Friday, Masjid Al-Rahma at Pulikkal delivers the sermon during Friday namaz (qutuba) in sign language, making it one of the first mosques in India to do so.
Sermons of all prayer meetings in the mosque are also displayed in sign languages on LCD screens. Apart from facilitating persons with hearing and speech impairment, the mosque also has ramps, armrests in toilets and wheelchair facilities.
Musthafa Madani, chairman of Ability Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that helped open the facilities in the mosque, says that they were able to achieve it with the support of locals as well as a few NRIs.
He also pointed out that people from all religions helped build the Masjid Al-Rahma, which was inaugurated in May and can accommodate 500 people.
â€śOur organisation has 300 students with disabilities, including 200 students with hearing impairment. Earlier we found that many of them skip their prayers due to their disability. That was rather painful that they have to keep away from worship just because they have some disability. It was this thought which made us to extend this facility,â€ť Musthafa said.
Edited by Anna Isaac