Bhopal: A church group in India has launched a campaign to make places of worship more accessible for the country’s physically challenged people.
Representatives of the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Baha'i religions all supported the bid at a recent meeting in Nagpur, western India.
They have for some time been meeting at various worship places, talking to religious authorities and congregations about the need to make their worship places physically accessible to people with disabilities.
Reverend Christopher Rajkumar, spearheading the effort on behalf of the National Council of Churches, said many religious places are accessible only through stairs.
The Protestant leader said physically challenged people in all religions of India are inhibited from worshipping in the same way as others.
"It is a serious matter of spiritual deprivation and a violation of their fundamental rights," he said.
The campaign aims to sensitize religious leaders and administrators on ways to make places of worship accessible to all.
Hindu leader Ankit Bhuptani agreed that even though no religion deliberately discriminates against physically-challenged people, they were often not given sufficient consideration.
"We need to make temples in the country friendly to physically challenged people," he said.
Hindus make up 80 percent of India’s population and numerous temples, large and small, are on hill tops or elevated places accessible only by foot.
However, visiting temples regularly to offer special prayers before a deity are part of Hindu religious life.
Bhuptani said traditions, conventions, architectural needs and religious beliefs are commonly the reasons temples are on high ground.
"But that should not be an excuse to deprive physically challenged people from accessing temples," he said.
Yahiya Khan, a Muslim leader, said being "disabled friendly" should not mean just constructing ramps for wheel chairs.
"We have people with speech, hearing and visual impairments," he said.
Places of worship should have brail holy books as well as systems to translate sermons into sign language, he added.
A mosque in Calicut, a city in the southern Indian state of Kerala, has already introduced sign language because its Friday community includes some 100 people with a hearing impairment.
Yahiya Khan wants such efforts to be made at mosques across India.
Amrit Kaur Basera, a Sikh woman and professor from Delhi University, said the Gurudwaras — places of worship of her religion — offer no facilities for physically challenged people.
"It is true that society, especially the faith communities, need to stand up for the rights of disabled persons, especially in worship places," she told ucanews.com.
Basera promised to take up the issue with Gurudwara Prabhantak Committees, the top Sikh governing bodies.
The 2011 World Disability Report estimates 15 percent of India’s population, or some 160 million people, suffer from some form of disability.