Earlier this month, Nipun Malhotra filed documents for the New Delhi court to hear a request for Indian Sign Language (ISL) to be officially recognized…”for hearing.” In an article published just hours before International Sign Language Day (September 23), the New Delhi court is said to have agreed to hear the case filed by the 31-year-old.
Malhorta’s request is not the first of its type to mobilize the issue of ISL recognition in the name of education; the affair is three decades old. While he explicitly cites Articles 14 (right to equality) and Article 29 (cultural and educational rights) of the Indian Constitution, so have previous efforts over the past thirty-one years. Interestingly, I was unable to find articles about ISL users rallying for ISL recognition; the only article I found was this one of remorseful non-deaf advocate.
The power of language transcends its legal status, syntactical structure, and practical purposes- force is generated by how it is used. Narrators do more than tell stories, they decide them. Another article from India, International Day for the Deaf: These Four Indian Teachers are a ‘sign’ That All Is Well by its sheer title evokes a type of therapeutic optimism–I drew different conclusions.
The exposé, which presumably attempts to celebrate the work of forward-thinking non-deaf educators by labeling them “superhero-like,” follows quickly by categorizing their deaf students as “[and] sometimes dumb” and later as “hearing-impaired.” (I am interested to know if any of the educators were able to contribute to the finalization of this article and its chosen epithets). Equally troubling is how none of the four individuals receiving praise for their innovation of and commitment to deaf education are deaf; a parallel to the first article I covered. In a climate in which Saturn orbits the sun faster than a court entertains sign language recognition request, heralding all to be “well” seems misleading at best and destructive at worst.
These tricky dichotomies of power, posture, and parlance are essential to educational development. I could not help but relive the African proverb “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” made arguably most famous by renowned African authors Chinua Achebe. These articles missed opportunities to feature deaf teachers, students, parents, or activists (during Deaf Awareness Month of all times) by instead narrating their stories through the voices (pun intended) of the hearing majority. In my opinion, both pieces would have been more compelling had they included the users of ISL to emphasize its recognition or the deaf students benefiting from the distinguished hearing professionals.
Indeed, schools are more than a breeding ground for scholarly enhancement. They aid in assembling cultural norms, societal expectations, and behavioral best-practices. For this reason, it is of grand importance that children have role models of language– both its structure and potency.
Deaf Education in India (in Indian Sign Language with English translation): https://youtu.be/Q4_GxsbKVHs