Why are authorities turning a deaf ear?


Why are authorities turning a deaf ear?

A group of students inside Block 14’s computer lab sit in attention in front of their the screens. A few curious minds surf the net while rest busy themselves with their mobiles.

Their bright faces bely the quiet in the room. The reason being that these eight students of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) are a little different. They are hearing-impaired.

Pursuing Bachelor of Arts in Applied Sign Language Studies (BAASLS) programme at the country’s premier and only Indian Sign Language Research and  Training Centre (ISLRTC) at IGNOU, these students were a happy lot till a month-and-a-half back. When they had enrolled themselves in the varsity, hopes of living a quality life had made them feel proud that they would be holding a dual degree in Indian Sign Language – from UK’s University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and IGNOU.

All these hopes were soon reduced to wishful thinking when the university announced the abrupt closure of the course, begun less than two years ago. The university claims that it lacks infrastructure needed to continue the same. But that is not correct as the university was hiring as recently as May instant. A new interpreter was employed to aid students and this was apart from a full faculty. 

When this news broke recently, the students went on a protest and approached Ministry of Education. “We even sent letters to the PM and Sonia Gandhi in June but we haven’t got any reply as yet,” informs Dashrath Singh Jadeja, a students’ representative.

“There are about 19 million deaf in India. Of these 70 are enrolled in here along with some international students. A Bachelors or Masters in Sign Language isn’t available in all parts of the country. When we objected to the closure of the course, Prof M Aslam, the vice-chancellor agreed to give us a Certificate of Participation on behalf of IGNOU. But we don’t want that. We want the degree that was promised to us initially,” adds Dashrath who is currently awaiting his second year

“We will get our degree from UCLan but in the absence of a IGNOU degree, we will not be able to apply for jobs as per UGC regulations,” rues Bhaskar Rajbhar, who has completed his third year. An aspiring journalist, Bhaskar has learnt English in sign language from Ishara Foundation in Mumbai but feels offended that, “the closure of one-of-its-kind course means that our system wants to force 19 million deaf to get educated through Oralism (the system of teaching the hearing-impaired to communicate by use of speech and lip-reading instead of using sign language). And that is like asking the blind to see.”
His concern is shared by batchmate Babloo Kumar: “The VC is just not concerned. When we are a part of India then why isn’t everything accessible to us? In the absence of a degree, what will our future be?”

The course is popular even among international students for it provides economical education at appox Rs 15,000 per annum instead of Rs 15 Lakh per annum that students shell out at Gallaudet University in US.

Noah, a student from Uganda shares, “Though the population of deaf in Uganda is less, its constitution respects those learning sign language since it is considered a regular language like Hindi or English here. But with 19 million deaf, why doesn’t India give sign language its due respect?”

“Till 1947, the country was waiting for its Independence but after that, the deaf are still waiting for their freedom,” says Bhaskar and Babloo adds, “This freedom was provided to us when ISLRTC was set up by the ex-VC but it is now being taken away from us!” No different that the other youth of today, these kids are intelligent and want the right to education. Is it too much for our country to provide?

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