Dear Citizens of India,
I, as a young Indian citizen, am being forced to pose this difficult question to you: Why does our country not extend the same opportunities to the 63 million members of its hearing-impaired community, which are readily available to the rest of its citizens? Indian Sign Language (ISL) does not hold a legitimate status in the eyes of our Constitution, forcing those with hearing impairments to face a multitude of disadvantages.
I am asking you, as citizens of this country, to join me in calling out our government for their wrongdoings against the hearing impaired community, and establishing ISL as an official language in India.
Hindi, Nepali, Santali and Bengali—what do you think these languages have in common? They are recognised by the 8th schedule of our Constitution; the constitutional provision that grapples with the tough task of officiating the myriad languages that are embedded in the diverse cultural fabric of our country. Legitimising these languages allows its speakers to benefit from equal opportunities, that enable them to advance in society.
Our indigenous Indian languages have been battling it out for their ‘knighting’ by our Constitution. Whilst many have succeeded, as mentioned before, ISL is one of the unfortunate outcasts to the 8th schedule.
According to Jamie Berke, an expert in hearing-impaired statuses around the world, you will find ISL vastly differing in Delhi from that of ISL signed down in Madras, which in turn leads to discrepancies and difficulties for the community to communicate amongst themselves. Languages serve one purpose—to unite those of a community through a common medium of communication. We must recognise that the lack of constitutional backing, has nullified the very purpose of having an Indian Sign Language.
In all likelihood, you have not heard of people like Shailendra and Swati Indulkar; two individuals who withstood the stigmas of being deaf in India and found solace and support in each other. As a 10th grader, Shailendra was confronted with the harsh reality that he could not even appear for the competitive exams, that would allow him to achieve his dreams—all due to an absence of colleges that would accept him as a deaf candidate. Similarly, Swati was forced to surrender her dreams to a government job, and even that would deny her due promotion because the mandatory training does not have ISL interpreters. Must we infer that the Indian Constitution sees hearing impairment as a trait that makes one less worthy?
You may ask with such a large deaf population, what is being done? I am writing to tell you what is not being done. While our country offers numerous training and rehabilitation centres for the hearing impaired, these stout-hearted organisations are being impaired at their final attempt at deaf empowerment.
If as a 15-year-old Indian citizen, I am disturbed by this appalling atrocity of discrimination against the Indian deaf by our very own Constitution, then why is it that our ‘prudent elected officials’ are turning a blind eye to this problem?
The time to act is now. I hope upon reading this, you will join me too in petitioning our government to make constitutional amendments to include Indian Sign Language. Be it as an activist, advocate or an ally. As a wise writer once said, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean”
Change starts with you.
A Concerned Citizen