August 2020, Kolkata: India, with over 1.3 million deaf and mute citizens, should make the Indian Sign Language (ISL) the 23rd official language under the Indian Constitution said Vaibhav Kothari, a deaf and mute entrepreneur, engineer and motivational speaker at a webinar – Winning Challenges – hosted by Kolkata-based social and cultural activist Sundeep Bhutoria. Vaibhav, who was the guest speaker, used sign language and an interpreter to communicate with those who joined in from different parts of the world.
Vaibhav’s fervent appeal to the Indian Government came in response to a question posed by conversationalist Sundeep Bhutoria – “How important do you think it is to promote the Indian Sign Language (ISL) by incorporating it in the list of existing 22 Scheduled Languages under the Constitution of India?
Vaibhav called upon the Government to listen to its millions of deaf and mute citizens and empower them by promoting the Indian Sign Language (ISL) to gain higher education and effectively contribute to the nation building. “Just as India promotes and preserves our ancient Sanskrit language, which is one of the 22 scheduled languages under the Indian Constitution, there is a need to incorporate the newly-evolved Indian Sign Language (ISL) into the list of scheduled languages. This would immensely empower millions of Indians suffering from hearing impairment to achieve higher education and catch up on missed opportunities,” Vaibhav said.
Lauding the New Education Policy for taking cognizance of the sign language Vaibhav said that individuals and organisations have been fighting for this for over thirty years. Vaibhav fully endorsed the suggestion of conversationalist Sundeep Bhutoria that one Parliamentary seat should be reserved for a deaf person to articulate and represent the demands of their world or the “deaf eco-system”.
Sign languages are full-fledged natural languages with their own grammar and lexicon. Though home to one of the largest numbers of hearing impaired population, India still does not have a formally recognized sign language under the Constitution. As per the 2011 Indian Census there are 1.3 million people with hearing impairment but on the other hand the India's National Association of the Deaf estimates that 18 million people or close to 1 per cent of the Indian population are deaf or suffer from hearing loss.
“India’s hearing impaired community have faced immense difficulties during the corona virus lockdown unable to access notices, clarifications or call helplines. Under the new online education system, deaf children are unable to study as most parents don’t know the Indian Sign Language (ISL). The New Education Policy must educate Indians on ISL and make it an official language. We are living in an unprecedented time, but in uncertainty lies the power to influence the future, and Vaibhav Kothari is the perfect example. I decided to have this intimate conversation personally with Vaibhav to highlight an important issue pertaining to the cause of the deaf and mute that is under reported and under served in India,” said Sundeep Bhutoria who has successfully campaigned with the Government to rectify social issues of national importance.
The Indian Government had set up the Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre in New Delhi in 2015. In March 2018 the first Indian Sign Language dictionary was launched. India now has its own sign language in place. There are over 130 sign languages in the world with different countries evolving their own system.
Vaibhav Kothari’s life is an ordinary boy’s extraordinary achievement. He learned the American Sign Language (ASL) and got his MBA and engineering degrees from the United States. He is a successful entrepreneur spearheading his family business Om Metals Infra Projects and Om International LLC. He hosts a talk show OMVAI and is a motivational speaker who inspires millions to overcome their physical disabilities to strive to become achievers. He has also directed a short film highlighting the plight of the deaf.
Higher education remains a major roadblock for the hearing impaired in India since very few colleges and institutions avail interpreters or lecturers who can teach in sign language. The students thus have to turn to other sources which most cannot afford. According to the Persons with Disability Act 1995, one per cent jobs in government and private agencies are reserved for them. But those jobs have conditions like having degree certificates from known universities across India.
Sundeep Bhutoria, a Kolkata-based social and cultural activist, author, columnist and blogger who has successfully campaigned with the Government to change policies that inconvenienced parents to take their infants to the passport office; or very recently to save the childhood of kindergarteners from the onslaught of online classes. His appeal to the Prime Minister to provide support to the folk artistes and craftsmen of India facing immense hardship due to Covid 19 pandemic prompted swift action by the Government to enlist those craftsmen who were earlier left out.