India arguably has the largest deaf population in the world, but it is said that the number of certified interpreters are 250 for around 18 million deaf people! Sign language is still not an officially recognized language by the government. The country has no captions on television, no instructions for deaf people at public places, no TTY, no instruction through sign language in deaf schools and no deaf college or a university for deaf people.
While studying in San Francisco, I saw an interpreter signing an address by the President of the University. In all my 28 years of life in India I had never ever witnessed any scene like that! This experience was truly new and intriguing for me. I was a bit disturbed and very inquisitive at the same time to know more about why India had no acknowledgement of this language and the community called, DEAF. That was one of the trigger points to take up this topic.
The filmmaker Vidyut Latay has launched a fundraising campaign to generate awareness about the film: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/beyond-silence–6/x/2352912
Shooting a film about the deaf community in Mumbai – the city that never sleeps, was in itself an interesting paradox for me. But I was keen to explore their life ‘Beyond silence’ amidst the ‘noise’ all around.
During one of my prep sessions, I saw myself amidst fifteen young people who were all deaf and busy ‘talking’ (via sign language). There was absolutely no sound, forget noise! After ten minutes or so that silence became deafening! I was yearning for somebody to talk. For the first time it occurred to me that I am ‘Hearing’!
Beyond Silence is a documentary made with an intention of understanding these hidden voices in their own “words, language, and culture.” It is a humble attempt to acknowledge the existence of a living, competent, and thinking deaf community that has the ability to communicate “beyond silence.” The film is a celebration of deafness. It tries to explore and bring about a strong emotion of self-confidence and belief among deaf people. The film nowhere depicts the lives of deaf people as people with disabilities, on the contrary it questions and argues about concepts and ideas about ‘being handicapped’.
“I could observe through the process of making this documentary that deaf people just expect one thing from the larger hearing community. ‘Live and Let Live.‘ They do not ask for any special favors, but are very vociferously ready to fight for their rights. Having interpreters is their right, and they want the government and the public to support it. Sign language is their mother tongue and they want their own families, teachers and society to accept that. The Indian Sign Language (ISL) is the most important characteristic of the Indian deaf culture. They want Hearing people to respect their life, their choices, their culture and not belittle or ridicule signing. A Deaf person like any Hearing person deserves every right to information and entertainment available for him/her through television and other media outlets. Indian electronic media is almost inaccessible to deaf people because of unavailability of closed-captioning on television. The biggest myth that India has about deaf lives is that all deaf people can lip read! this in fact is incorrect. It is impossible for a deaf person to read lips a hundred percent!. There needs to be a political, societal and moral will to bring about substantial changes in the lives of deaf people in India.
I hope the exhibition of this documentary helps deaf community in India to strengthen their fight for their basic rights, like the recognition and adoption of sign language in schools and in the community at large; awareness about deaf culture and motivating the entertainment media in the country to adopt captioning.