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How Deaf People In India Suffer Because Of Govt. Inaction And No Awareness

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By Anjana Radhakrishnan:

“When they laugh and I’m unable to understand why, it feels like a punch in the gut, a giant inside joke I’m not part of.” David Peter, a tech start-up programmer, articulates a feeling we’ve all experienced and loathe – the feeling of being outside of a group, outside of an inside joke. The only difference is David Peter has felt that way for most of his life and for him, it often feels like there will never be a chance for him to be on the inside. David Peter is deaf.

For over a decade now, in efforts to mainstream the Indian deaf community, organisations have been asking for legal recognition of Indian Sign Language (ISL) to little avail. In fact, earlier this year Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy and Coca-Cola India president Venkatesh Kini recently signed a petition that urges the Indian government to recognise Indian Sign Language (ISL) as an official language. But so far this has not happened.

Sign language has been used across India for decades, perhaps centuries without any formalisation. Then in 2001, the Ramakrishna Mission in collaboration with CBM International, Germany, released the first Indian Sign Language Dictionary, which documented over 2,500 signs from 12 states to provide a common sign language code. While there are varying dialects, over 75 percent of signs used in ISL are common to all regions. The Ramakrishna Mission and other organisations involved with deaf communities have since systemised ISL teaching materials, degree programmes and training sessions to increase its usage across India.

Despite the efforts of various organisations, deaf people in India still face formidable obstacles within local communities and society. Television programming as well as cultural programmes that utilise music and plays to connect communities, remain inaccessible for those in the deaf community due to lack of funding, know-how and ISL interpreters.

In a positive move, the Indian government has recently committed to increasing access to the hearing disabled by mandating all television channels to run subtitles on their shows, ranging from flashy serials to fitness programmes and news channels. However, a date for compliance has yet to be set and the implementation of this mandate remains unclear.

Deaf communities in other countries have also struggled in getting their needs met, particularly in gaining legal recognition of their languages. In the United States, it wasn’t until the publication of William Stokoe’s dissertation, which proved American Sign Language (ASL) to be a distinct, genuine language, that ASL gained recognition as a national language in 1960.

Indian researchers at the Central Institute for Indian Languages (CIIL) and Ramakrishna University have begun work similar to Stokoe’s to strengthen the demands of the Indian deaf community. These researchers are currently collecting data on ISL signs, facial gestures, and other modes of visual communication from every state in order to document variations in signs across geographic regions.

By creating quality, annotated data of ISL, CIIL and the Ramakrishna Mission hope to create a common understanding of the language, determine its grammar and syntax, and promote ISL learning and teaching. Researchers have recently finished data collection from Mysore and hope to move out of the testing phase soon.

While work like the research conducted at CIIL and the Ramakrishna Mission, engenders greater mainstreaming of the deaf into society, the deaf community is pushing for the official recognition of ISL now. Community organisers are hoping to capitalise on the government’s recent priority to create an ‘Accessible India’, today. There are ways you, too, can get involved and help the movement.

If you know or love a deaf person and are looking for more information on deaf culture and the role of community, check out these articles. Consider getting an ISL Interpreter Diploma. There is significant need for ISL interpreters to help increase accessibility for the deaf community. Contact the Association of Sign Language Interpreters for more information. And make sure to follow the National Association of the Deaf, India and the Deaf Enabled Foundation on Facebook to stay up-to-date on future developments!

Our society conditions us to be uncomfortable around disabilities, anything that is beyond the pale of ‘normal’. I, myself, grapple with the prejudiced misconceptions I’ve picked up from others over the years. But here’s the thing: every single time I have taken the effort to overcome my distorted perceptions, I have found myself entirely in the wrong and incredibly humbled by the patience and forbearance of those I’ve slighted. It’s an exercise I engage in daily, an exercise that is more of a vertical climb up-hill than a breezy walk in the park. The truth is, it’s difficult to engage with ‘otherness’, whether that’s race, gender, sexuality, or able-ness – but that doesn’t excuse us from challenging the narratives of ‘normalcy’.

Image source: Elyse Patten/ Flickr

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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