Looking for Parallel Themes

May 1, 2010 Comments off

I remember Chomsky, when he was visiting India in November 2001 – a few weeks after I had returned to India to take up the teaching position in the University of Delhi that was offered to me long-distance while I was still in Germany/ UK – he was looking for a rather dull and dispassionate parallelism between the imperialist aggression of earlier centuries and the then current one; as if, all this was but expected. Those of us who grew up with almost the last vestiges of socialism, consider such positioning nothing but cynical.

However, over the years, I have come to appreciate this semi-journalistic, semi-academic strategy of seeking out such minimal parallel pairs. Apart from the obvious — and much needed – in particular for issues that are almost universally neglected, populism that such a highlighting brings about, it provides you a pathway to follow your activism on; as long as there is decisive activism at the end of such a semi-academic tunnel, it cannot be cynical.

Here, I am interested in looking at a particular parallel that is more or less well-known in the context in which it is embedded – the context of oppression of women and of disabled persons. In the first stage, women were simply “added-in” to the male-dominated view of the world. However, it is only the so-called second wave of feminism that brought about an epistemological change in the perspective – it became a methodology, a decidedly feminist perspective of knowledge in general.

This has partly been the story of disability as a category as well. Disability has simply been an “add-on” category, especially so, in fact in early feminist literature, the following comment is therefore not a surprise:
‘There are startling parallels between what feminists find disappointing and insulting in Western philosophical thought and what many women have found troubling in much of Western feminism’ (Spelman, 1990:6)

This parallel within a parallel is now a well recognised theme in the disability studies literature after Morris (1993). I will therefore move away from this well trodden path and look at in fact yet another parallel between, not oppression, but so-called “liberation” of women and of disabled persons. My area of focus will be education.

Sixty years ago, the earliest education commission, the University Education Commission report of 1948-49 of newly independent India, had a whole chapter devoted to Women’s Education which clearly stated that “There cannot be an educated people without educated women. If general education had to be limited to men or to women, that opportunity should be given to women, for then it would most surely be passed on to the next generation”. A humanistic statement like this by civil servants and bureaucrats is heart warming. However, the chapter also contains a section on what is called “Special Education” which lists and justifies home economics, nursing, teaching (primary and secondary schools), and the fine arts as the desirable vocations for women. It justifies this “desirable” alternative by the strange reasoning that to train a person who will not practise is a social loss, assuming (and therefore implying) that ‘to not practice’ is by choice; strange because the document does not bother to find out why women trained, for example, in medical sciences, do not take up medical practice. In addition, in its section on “Future of Women’s Education” it re-emphasises the need for, what it calls, “redirection of interest” through advocacy and counselling for women and people in general to remove social taboos against these vocations.

Furthermore, in the section on ‘Preparation of Home and Family Life’, the document advises that women’s education should include practical “laboratory” experience in the care of a home and family. It further includes the following as ‘equipment’ in women’s education:
(i) A baby home.
(ii) A nursery school, which incidentally would relieve nearby mothers during a part of the day.
(iii) A club for school children and adolescents.
(iv) A little home for convalescents.
(v) A small home for old people.
(vi) A home setting where students may have experience home Maintenance and operation, and where they may act as hostesses.

It’s interesting to see that out of these 6 equipments, 4 of them contain the word ‘home’ (underlined here), and the two which don’t contain the word home, imply women’s location as indoors. So, although the document stars with a visionary statement, it clearly locates the women firmly inside the home.

These three themes, (i) devalued social roles through special education, (ii) “redirection of interest”, and (iii) confinement in homes, are some of the very clear parallels found in how disabled persons have been treated and are continued to be treated.
Special schools for disabled children has been right from the National Policy of Education (NPE) 1986 to the very current Right to Education, 2009 aggressively pushed as the alternative for education/ training for disabled children. This is very clearly stated in the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, the main disability act of India, and also in related documents like Comprehensive Action Plan on the Inclusion in Education of Children and Youth with Disabilities (IECYD); the latter containing the largest section on “Education in Special Schools”. Thus the concept of special schools, as a modern-day version of the eugenics’ notion of segregation, continue to develop as a small-scale industry in the country.
A theme similar to the above “redirection of interest” is seen in the current practice in Indian schools of not allowing especially blind students to opt for mathematics as a subject at school level – the excuse being Braille not able to create special symbols and diagrams. As a result, blind students can never take up any science subject or Economics at the graduate level, and are forced take ‘softer’ subjects instead.
Similarly, the IEYCD lists among its goals the following:
• To provide for home based learning for persons with severe, multiple and intellectual disability,
• To promote distance education for those who require an individualised pace of learning
It also talks about setting up resource centres which are envisioned to support non-formal education as also home-based learning activities. Clearly, home-based education is nothing but another form of segregation albeit in their own homes.

Although as far as the polices, documents and acts are concerned, equality in women’s education has been successfully programmed over the years, no such development has taken place in the case of disabled persons, whose education continues to be haunted by the modern-day segregationists’ instrument of special schools.


Blogging Against Disablism

April 29, 2010 Comments off

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010

Hello All,
Do participate as far as possible.
If you are wondering what disablism is, disablism is a short powerpoint extract from one of my recent classes on the matter.

Categories: Disability

5th IPSL Workshop

January 29, 2010 Comments off

We were very pleased to be able to organise the 5th IPSL workshop at DU on 29th Jan, Friday. AS usual, we had HUGE gathering and finally ran out of space! First we had a presentation by Dharmesh Kumar on Deaf Education and about his own MA research at UCLAN. There were questions by Babloo and Upandra and an observation by me. IN between Sibaji expanded further on the various topics by showing some demos. Babloo asked about the exact situation in 1885 in Calcutta when the Deaf SChool there was set up and also about the work of JN Banerjee that Dharmesh had referred to. Upendra asked a very relevant question about the use of web-based Deaf Education for poorer countries where 90% of the population do not have internet access. My comment was in line with this question, but first I pointed out the nice point about need for “Reflexivity” in social science research and especially within the context of deaf education. However, finally, the research work must be put to use so that more and more people can benefit from it.

After this, we had a very nice film shown on Deaf issues that are so current and relevant. We enjoyed it very much and most of us were able to relate to various important issues that we re raised. However, for me, the final message of the film was very very relevant, which was to appeal to all the different deaf organisations to come together and demand their rights, the rights of deaf persons to education and to language. I think there is a great need to follow this advice and respond to it. At this nascent stage of disability movements in our country, we can only benefit hugely by coming together.

Categories: IPSL Workshop

SIGN4 Report by Hidam Gourashyam Singh

December 19, 2009 Comments off

A Report on SIGN4

by Hidam Gourashyam Singh

SIGN4 was held at the conference centre of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU, New Delhi) from 17/12/2009 to 19/12/2009. The three-day conference was jointly organized by Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU, New Delhi), International Centre for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS, Preston, UK), Ishara Foundation of Mumbai and Deaf Empowerment Foundation of the Netherlands. SIGN4 successfully concluded after three days of interactive presentations and discussions focusing on sign language, deaf culture, deaf education in sign language, deaf communities, Sociolinguistics of sign language and typological studies etc.

SIGN4 was the fourth conference of its kind for sign language users across the globe. Hosting the conference in India was a matter of pride for people like Ulrike Zeshan and Shibaji Panda who are working in this line for years. SIGN4 was very special for several reasons i.e. It was for the first time that this conference was held outside Europe. SIGN1, SIGN2 & SIGN3 were held in Netherlands and UK. Therefore, the conference marked progress for one of its main aims was to broaden the development/ awareness/ research works related to sign language and deaf. The 150 participants (app.) were from Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, China, Dominican Republic, France, India, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Uganda, and UK etc.

It is worth to mention at this point that IGNOU has opened a centre for B.A. programme for deaf students in collaboration with the University of Central Lancashire, UK. The students will get a degree from the University of Central Lancashire, UK. The programme had already attracted students from Asia, Africa and South-American countries.

Topics presented in the conference

1. Karin Hoyer: Dictionary work on undocumented sign languages
2. Shibaji Panda: The number and counting system in Alipur village sign language
3. Holly Williams: A sociolinguistic survey of the Dominican Republic Deaf community
4. Sujit Sahasrabudhe: Confidence building through a deaf association – a participant interview study
5. Mellissa Wallang: Shillong Sign Language (ShSL): A Multi-media Lexicon
6. Steve Emery: Putting the World to Rights: the case of group rights and sign language people
7. Mo. Shafique: Sign language interpreting and interpreting issues
8. Christian Ramirez: Theme and Rheme in Costa Rican Sign Language: Four studies for the thematic realization
9. Cedric Moreau: Lexique LSF: Towards a Web Based Academy of the French Sign Language.
10. Dharmesh Kumar, Sunil Sahasrabudhe & Ulrike Zeshan: Applied Sign Linguistics in India – the link between theory, research and implementation
11. Ulrike Zeshan: Sign language Typology: The Cross-linguistic Study of sign languages.
12. Annelies Kusters: Deaf meetings on the lifeline of Mumbai
13. Neil Fox: Integration between the hands and the mouthing for lexical signs in BSL
14. Arkady Belozovsky: Learning Foreign, Linguistically related Sign Languages: What are the Benefits to ASL/Deaf Studies Instructors?
15. K. Murali & Kajal Dhawan: Deaf Education for changing times: Need for parallel thinking and resourceful persons


16. Deaf leadership and international co-operation
17. Models of literacy teaching and peer education
18. The role of deaf adults in deaf education

The conference concluded successfully after a plenary discussion on sign language research ethics.

Categories: Uncategorized

4th IPSL Workshop

December 16, 2009 Comments off

For a change this was held at IGNOU since the forthcoming SIGN4 international conference has attracted many renowned personalities to IGNOU. We had a couple of presentations by well known experts, Clark Denmark and Ulrike Zeshan from the UK. There was lively discussions at both the talks. Clark presented on the current situation with deaf movement in Britain and Ulrike spoke on SL typology methods. I hope to be able get both the presentations and upload them here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Equal Opportunity: Vision and Future

November 7, 2009 Comments off

EOC: Vision and Future

Tanmoy Bhattacharya

[Talk given at the AIF-RTE meeting, 7th Nov. 2009, University of Delhi]

The Equal Opportunity Cell, of the University of Delhi (http://eoc.du.ac.in) was constituted in 2006 with Rama Kant Agnihotri as the co-ordinator to provide equal accessibility and a barrier free environment to persons with physical disabilities and students in reserved categories, such as SC/ST/OBC and other minorities.

Right at the beginning, I’d like to emphasise that ‘barrier-free’ is now a much familiar phrase which, in the common imagination, implies environmental aspects of accessibility (like building more ramps, putting up signages, etc.), but as Anita Ghai in her talk later will re-emphasise, it is more than a physical concept alone. In fact, we have come to stand for the view that the barriers are more a part of the society and the collective mind-set of the society peopled by the majority doing and building things for the majority.

When the EOC was constituted, there were very few members and even fewer enthusiasts and takers. We didn’t have a space of our own, the meetings were held every month or at least every two months, in a tiny corner of the Braille library where a motley crowd of 10 or so people, including some interested students, would gather to discuss the newly emerging issues to do with disability. Even we didn’t have a clear agenda but one hallmark of this early period was the accessibility audit that was conduced for the colleges of the university, and later for many university buildings, by Samarthyam. It is only now that the implementation work of that audit is taking shape slowly. Apart from that, we would deal case by case issues of disability as referred to the committee. Early on, we dealt with the inhuman case of one lecturer of this university in wheel chair who would sometimes have 2-3 hours gap between two classes and would have to simply wait in the corridor in the wheelchair, the teachers room being on the first floor; there wasn’t even an accessible toilet and the person would have to be carried by two people to the toilet.

It took two years of single minded vision of Prof. Agnihotri and few dedicated individuals associated with him to bring into existence the modern space that we have now. This, in spite of active and genuine support from the Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of this university, for whom, the EOC is like their favourite child – so much so, that in all the functions that we have arranged so far, at least one of them, and sometimes both of them, like on the Orientation Day, would be present. We do not have any high-profile function, we do not get dignitaries in our centre, but the VC and/or the PVC’s presence can be counted upon. With this support and the generous support from NTPC, who on their own came up to provide financial and engineering help, the DU-NTPC ICT Centre was inaugurated on 20th October 2008.

After the centre was set up, along with continuing the earlier work, it has also made available assistive devices through another NGO Saksham to ones who need them, produced about 100 scanned books and collected 4000 e-books. A strong area of the EOC has been to hold sensitising and awareness workshops for different groups within and outside the university. Again, we have a very dedicated staff of people manning the centre, Dr. Nisha Chandra Singh, the Officer on Special Duty has been looking after the workshops very efficiently among other everyday work at the Centre, Prashant Verma who is  the manager of the Centre employed by the NTPC has been looking after the ICT course, Hidam Gaurashyam (technical assistant for the Hearing Impaired) and Ramnik Singh (technical assistant for the orthopaedically impaired) are hired as specialists in their areas and they are doing a commendable job. In addition, we have a very dedicated staff of people like Geeta, Vinod and Rajbeer who have been doing much more than just their job profile demands, like everybody else at the Centre. Almost all these people are here today making this meeting happen!

However, the flagship programme of the Centre has been the short-term certificate courses that were started on December 3, 2008; in fact, Sonal Sena, sitting here, was the one who took the first class at the Centre – it was as a part of the Disability and Human Rights course. We started with 4 courses, namely, Sign Language Interpretation (A Level), Disability and Human Rights, Information and Communication Technology, mostly geared toward the Visually Impaired, and Communicative English, mainly geared towards the reserved candidates. Although we didn’t have a lot of time for publicity, we managed to get a good number of students (88) during the first run. Many experts from the disability field were invited to deliver special lectures and take classes as part of the Disability and Human Rights course. For the next batch of courses, we introduced a new course entitled News Reading, Anchoring and Voice Over taught by well-known television personality J.V.Raman; several invited lectures were given by experts from Doordarshan on topics ranging from news reading, anchoring, makeup, lighting, to the portrayal of disability in the media by Anita Ghai a few weeks back. Further, among the next batch of courses to be started in January 2010, we’d like to introduce another new course, Sign Language Interpretation (B Level) for students who have passed the A-level course of this Centre or any other institute. The courses have been a judicial mix of skill development and awareness building. Thus, they are designed to provide skills required to enhance job prospects and also to provide manpower for sectors dedicated to working for the disabled, like Sign Language interpretation and Human Rights.

Apart from the courses, the other academic component of the Centre has been to hold monthly workshops on Sign Language which has been quite popular and reports of the workshops are available at the EOC website. We are also concentrating on issues that have to do with the universal evaluation metric that is applied still in our schools and colleges, where the orthopaedically disabled person is forced to climb up exams and interviews, where the visually impaired person is forced to write exams with or without assistance, where the deaf is interviewed or orally examined. Very few people know that reading or writing skills of the blind or the deaf is very low, and this is not only the case of India in isolation. A survey in the US revealed that 18 year deaf students have the reading skills of a 6th grader. I have been saying this for a while, that among the deaf there is a high level of illiteracy, that is because the education system as a whole, and definitely the evaluation method, is heavily biased against the disabled. We need to address strongly the issue of equitability of testing and exam systems. I think this meeting of educationist and school-teachers here can take this up in one of their future meetings.

However, we don’t want this to turn into a mere training centre, otherwise it will be just a centre for getting a DU certificate. A mere training centre cannot take the movement ahead – I am calling it a ‘movement’ because that is how we need to view disability at the moment and perhaps for another half-a-century to come. There needs to be an underlying philosophy that binds us together and takes us ahead. I outlined this in a recent talk in the context of the philosophy of justice of Martha Nussbaum. There she proposes the Capabilities Approach, which advices us that instead of making bargains as equals, we’d be better off if we participate with our varying degrees of capacity and disability and establish an interconnection of mutually dependent network with each other. For example, I mentioned earlier the high level of illiteracy among the deaf, it is quite possible to make minimal adjustments and create a network between the deaf and the hearing where there is a give and take relation between the two.

In addition, we also need a political vision, especially in a world that is threatened by, what I call, radical homogeneity. With the dissolution of a mainly bipolar world (at least in the Anglo-American discourse), the initial euphoria of globalisation has given way to this threat of radical homogeneity that has pervaded across many spheres of life. This complete absence of agonism and antagonism and conflict in opinion-making can be countered only if a radical form of democracy can be extended to more and more spheres of our lives. And an institute like the Equal Opportunity Cell is one such sphere. The logic of equality cannot be the logic of homogeneity, it has to be the logic of ‘equivalence’. This is where we tie up with an organisation like the AIF-RTE, and also in our need to enrich our experience of activism, I think we are doing alright with teaching, training and documentation aspects but the activism side has been so far lacking and we are fortunate to be able to host this meeting and learn something in return.

©Tanmoy Bhattacharya 2009

2nd IPSL Workshop @ EOC

November 2, 2009 2 comments

The IPSL blog is back to reporting on Sign Language, this time with embedded videos as well! The videos are without sound, if anyone know of compressing software that can create smaller files with sound, please let me know.

The second IPSL Workshop at the EOC was held on 30th October 2009 at the DU-NTPC ICT Centre. It is clear from the large number of participation that it is becoming an important event in the calendar for the deaf in the capital. In this workshop, there were two presentation and very lively discussion from the deaf participants. There were a total of 35 participants, out of which 24 were deaf, including students from China, Nepal, Burundi and Uganda.


Audience at the 2nd IPSL Workshop at the EOC, DU

First, it was Prof Rama Kant Agnihotri, Co-ordinator of the EOC and Professor of Linguistics at the Department of Linguistics who gave a highly germane talk on the issue of “Standardization” as it is understood for spoken languages. He further compared it and drew parallel with the situation in Sign Language Standardization.


Rama Kant Agnihotri at the 2nd IPSL Workshop at EOC, DU

Here is a video clip:

It was pointed out that there are four stages in the Process of standardization in natural languages (including of course, Signed languages) as follows:
1. Selection
2. Codification
3. Elaboration
4. Dissemination

As a part of the process of Selection, one variety is chosen to represent the language. Agnihotri pointed out that this is also point where the “Politics of standardization” enters into the picture. It is the powerful who are in a position to select a particular variety. This is obviously not the ideal situation because as linguists and human beings, we would like to believe that all languages or all varieties are equal.

The second stage of codification involves the process of writing up dictionaries and grammars of the variety chosen as the standard. It is important to understand that codification implies bringing into existence real objects like dictionaries and grammars although – and this is the important part – all languages and varieties have ‘dictionaries’ and ‘grammars’ since lexicon (or a list of words) and syntax (knowledge of making sentences in a language) are part of knowing a language, thus, knowing a language means knowing the dictionary and grammar of that language. It was further emphasized that language comes first and dictionaries and grammars later. At this point, Kakooza Muhammes from Uganda pointed out that in Africa (Kenya) there were attempts to first write the grammar and they propagate the language but that experiment, apparently, failed. It was pointed out by Agnihotri that there are certain languages which are not natural languages, foremost being computer languages, that are planned languages. Also, among the spoken languages, Esperanto is one language that is a planned languages but of course there are now 2nd, 3rd generation natural speakers of Esperanto.

The third stage of the process of “Elaboration” involves producing various texts and corpuses in the chosen variety. This is also a stage where discrimination on the basis of the variety one speaks (or signs) may be associated, where the chosen variety (and therefore its users) attains a certain amount of power. Questions raised at this stage by Vishi from Kerala and Upendra from Nepal about this situation being less than ideal.

The fourth stage of “Dissemination” involves spreading the chosen variety among the masses through education and other means. It was very poignantly pointed by Prof. Agnihotri that actually there is in fact sometimes a conscious effort to in fact to not disseminate it to the masses by changing the variety in such a way that the masses will never be able to catch up with the so-called standard variety. At this point, I clarified it for myself that this is something that is more likely to happen within a chosen variety, that is, class-based differences start creeping (and designed) once the variety has been chosen as a standard.

The impression given is that it “unifies” but actually it separates people. In addition, it also produces “attitudes”, where one starts ‘loving’ the standard (and by now ‘high’) variety and ‘hating’ the non-standard (by now ‘low’) variety.

At this point there were many objections and questions from Bablu Kumar (from Delhi), Robindranath Sarkar (from Kolkata), Upendra Khanal (from Nepal), Guan Xuesong (from China) and Njejimana Charles (from Burundi) about their varieties and their place in their lives.


Rabindranath Sarkar at the 2nd IPSL Workshop at EOC, DU

Njejimana Charles at the 2nd IPSL Workshop at EOC, DU

Prof Agnihotri concluded by saying that language is a continuum and there is a model which helps make standardization inclusive and not exclusive and this is the model of multilingualism which has been successfully employed in many countries.

However, many questions remained and the audience was invited for another round of discussion on this topic during the 3rd workshop on 27th November, 2009. Here is a handout of the talk that was distributed during the talk.

The second presentation was by Hidam Gaurshyam on “Adpositions as Classifiers in IPSL”. Hidam started by reporting that many native signers of IPSL when asked about separate signs for Adpositions (prepositions or postpositions like in, on, under, across, etc.) usually deny their existence. However, in ASL (American Sign Language) is claimed to have separate sings for Adpositons. Hidam claimed that in fact, IPSL also has Adpositions but that it’s incorporated into the verb in the same way that a Classifier (like HAND-SHAPE) incorporates features of the noun it classifies.

Hidam presenting at the 2nd IPSL Workshop at EOC, DU

Here is a preliminary version of the talk.

Geetnajali again did a marvelous job of interpreting both the talks in IPSL and interpreting questions back to English:


Geetanjali Nair at the 2nd IPSL Workshop at EOC, DU