There is an island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts in United States by the name of Martha's Vineyard. The island has unique demographics. Majority of its people are deaf. The people who can hear also learn sign language so that they can communicate on the island. And, there is a Martha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL).
The deaf people in Martha's Vineyard are a majority and the use of sign language on the island is a given. But unfortunately, that is not true for majority of deaf people around the world. One of their biggest challenges is how to make themselves 'heard'?
"It is not due to the lack of skills that they are not able to get a job but because they are unable to communicate the skills to the employer as nobody understands their language," says Nipun Malhotra, the founder of Nipman Foundation highlighting the communication challenges faced by deaf people.
He further talks about his own experience," I have a deaf person in my office. He is most hardworking but he stays quiet the whole day. However, during the lunch break he talks to his wife on a video call through sign language. And at that time, he is the liveliest person in office. There are myriad of expressions on his face and it is beautiful."
There are 6 million deaf people in India, but just 250 interpreters. The ratio of deaf people to sign language interpreters in India is 20,000:1. Recently, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by Nipun Malhotra for seeking legal recognition of Indian sign language (ISL) and the case will be heard by the Supreme Court of India on 10th December, 2018. The National Association of Deaf and Alim Chandani are co-petitioners in PIL.
The litigation seeks to include ISL as the 23rd official language of India. The ISL is not just a translation of what is said in Hindi or English but has its own grammar and words. Unlike in spoken languages like English, Hindi or for that matter any language, where the grammar is expressed through sound based signifiers like tense, aspect, mood; the sign language uses hand movements, sign order and body and facial cues for communication. The language has its own dialects that differ in different regions across India. The language is 'whole'.
India has a three language system; English, Hindi and an optional. Why can't sign language be one of the optional languages?
Gone are the days when a deaf person would just sit back and blame his luck. The international week of deaf awareness is going on and people all over the world are celebrating it, we have taken an initiative to learn and teach basics of the sign language.