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Come On India, Let’s Sign: 18 Million Indians Desperately Need An Official Language

Posted by Manju Sharma in Disability Rights, Society
February 2, 2018

India is home to arguably the largest deaf population in the world. There are approximately 18 million people with hearing impairments here.

Communication is a basic human need and right. However, in India, it is one of the biggest challenges for people who have hearing impairments. Do people living with speech and hearing impairment have rights which are different than those enjoyed by the others? Is this fair?

Everybody needs access to a language – to communicate, study, learn, progress and express oneself. But in our country, the Indian sign language (ISL) is neither uniformly practised nor taught as a language for communication and education. Most of the schools for children with hearing impairments still follow an ‘oralist’ approach which further damages the future prospects of these kids because they are not able to learn much. Due to the lack of a recognised language they have no access to proper, basic primary and higher education. As a testimony to this, it’s alleged that 99% of people with hearing disabilities in India are not matriculates.

They lack information resources of all kind. As a result of this, people with hearing impairments face a lot of problems when it comes to social interaction, language and daily communication, education, mental health, access of financial, legal and medical services, safety measures, entertainment and information and technology.

The Rights of People with Disabilities Act, 2016, talks about accessible education. It also ensures that persons with hearing impairments can have access to television programmes with sign language interpretation or sub-titles. Furthermore, it highlights the need for sign language interpreters and equal opportunities in education and employment. In that context, the setting up of the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) by the government has been a step in the right direction. But, without a recognised language, how can all of this turn into reality?

My younger sister has been deaf since birth. In the family, at times, we feel helpless when we fail to communicate all our thoughts and feelings with her. She studied in a school which taught in an ‘oralist’ module – and we never got a chance to learn the language that would have enabled us to communicate freely with her. I have also noticed through my sister’s experiences that the sign language is not uniform across the country. This further adds to the trouble.

Once ISL gains official recognition, efforts should be made to propagate and develop it. The language should be uniform – and all persons with hearing impairments (including children) across the country should have access to the same language for communication purposes. This can also result in the society having a choice to learn the language, even as a separate language, as a part of the educational curriculum.

According to a report, there are only 250 interpreters in a country of 18 million people with hearing impairments. This means that there is only one interpreter for 72,000 people.

In fact, I believe that every school should teach ISL as a part of their curricula. Similarly, every teacher should also know ISL. But, these can only happen if ISL gains official recognition. Then, the number of interpreters may also increase manifold.

ISL is a language in its own right – with its own style, grammar, and syntax, and it should be recognised as one. It should get its rightful linguistic, cultural, educational, social and legal place in the national and global scenario.

The recognition of ISL as a language is paramount to enable equal opportunities and a life of dignity to the deaf people of our country. Several countries such as Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Sri Lanka, Thailand, UK, USA, etc. have officially recognised their sign languages.

Inclusion is everybody’s responsibility. Let’s work towards a more inclusive and beautiful world for all of us.

Don’t you think the government of India should take another proud step forward towards inclusion and officially recognise the Indian sign language?