ISLRTC Autonomy Now!

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Logo by Bilal Chinoy

India’s Deaf Community is fighting for their independence! This is a story that is near and dear to me.

The Indian Sign Language Research and Training Center (ISLRTC) is an academic institution whose original intent was to promote Indian Sign Language and Deaf culture. A future goal of this center is to influence policy, hopefully even change the negative perception of deaf India. Beyond that, as a center, it validates the existence of deaf Indians, of their language and their culture.

But fighting for autonomy has been a difficult journey. You can read about the extensive and frustrating history in this article, written by Madan VasishtawfdArticle.

And here’s a video from our interview back in 2013, in which Madan articulates the struggles Deaf Indians experience: 

On April 21st, the Indian government placed the center under the authority of the National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped (NIHH). But the deaf community’s fight is not over. This is the first time deaf communities from all over India are rallying for this cause. For this story, I interviewed Madan Vasishta, Sunil and Shweta Sahasrabudhe.

So why do I feel so strongly about this?

Well, I’m a Sign Language Interpreter and Deaf South Asians are the reason I got into the Interpreting field in the first place. Besides that, while I was in Bombay back in March, I had the opportunity to meet Sunil and Shweta Sahasrabudhe.

I first learned about Sunil and Shweta when they were featured in Vidyut Latay’s documentary film, Beyond Silence. We met at my grandfather’s house in Ghatkopar, during the Maharashtrian New Year of Gudhi Padwa, during an exceptionally hot and crowded day. Sunil grew up in a deaf family and Indian Sign Language is his native language. Shweta grew up in a Hearing family, not realizing her deaf identity until she was 22. She struggles to communicate properly at her job. Sunil is on the ground, fighting for deaf rights in India. Their daughter is hearing and the entire family is fabulously multilingual.

There was no interpreter available for our radio interview. Sunil and Shweta were willing to use spoken English on the mic to accommodate my needs. Our logistics went something like this: I would sign the question in ASL, Sunil would interpret my question into ISL for Shweta. Both would simultaneously (inevitably) sign and voice their answers in English. It was equally thrilling and devastating to hear Sunil and Shweta’s stories about the lives of Deaf Indians and this fight for ISLRTC’s autonomy.

For KBOO’s Political Perspectives, I produced a long feature. Check out the podcast!

Air date: 4/22/2015:

You can read the transcript here: ISLRTCTranscript

After the Indian government granted control of the ISLRTC to the NIHH (on April 21st), I did a follow-up story on the Deaf Community’s efforts to organize and protest to overturn the decision. I spoke with Madan again for insights on the issue and the community’s needs. This follow-up segment was featured on the KBOO Evening News. The fight is not over and they need our support! This segment aired on the KBOO Evening News. Check out the podcast!

Air date: 4/30/215

You can read the transcript here: ISLRTC_Part2_transcript

**This story was also featured, in full, on the Feb. 15, 2016 episode of Intersections Radio, which is now an independent podcast that also airs on XRAY.FM.

Update (5/5/2015): The protest was rescheduled for Tuesday, May 5th in Delhi. Sunil Sahasrabudhe kindly shared this video with me, showing the turnout and passion for overturning the Indian government’s decision to merge the ISLRTC with the NIHH. 

Update (6/5/2015): From ISLRTC Autonomy Now! Facebook page:
Hello All! I did not post anything here as we were waiting for the official word on ISLRTC. As you all know, the minister of state in PMO’s office had agreed to support our request and bring to the prime minister for formal approval. The PM was in China and is back in New Delhi now. The NAD officers have been regularly checking with both the PMO and MSJE officials. All indications are positive, however, given the pace at which the Indian bureaucracy works, it will take some time. “A week” in the bureaucracy parlance can mean anything from five minutes to a year. They key here is to keep reminding them, which we are doing.
We are closing the funding support site we have met our goal. We have some money left, which we will hold until the formal approval is given. We will keep you posted. Thanks for your support. It could not have been achieved without YOU!

Update (10/6/2015): Deaf Indians fought hard and won their right to an autonomously run ISLRTC! Check out the final installment of this series here.

***Special thanks to:

*Jenn Chavez and Vidyut Latay for their quick turnaround feedback

*Shruti Deshpande and Vainateya Deshpande for the voiceovers

*Neerja Vasishta for interpreting

*And of course, thank you to Madan Vasishta, Sunil and Shweta Sahasrabudhe for sharing your stories with us!

Thank you all so so much for making this story happen!

**This story features music by Vijay Iyer, Prasanna and Nitin Mitta, from their album, Tirtha.

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