KATHMANDU : Today (September 23) marks the third International Sign Language Day. The day was officially adopted by the United Nations on December 19, 2017 and has been observed since 2018. According to the UN website, the official celebration date of September 23 was chosen commemorating the exact date of the establishment of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) in 1951.
According to the WFD, there are 72 million deaf people worldwide. There exist 300 different sign languages, including the Nepali Sign Language, which is only around three decades old. According to the official website of the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal (NDFN), the first Nepali Sign Language Dictionary was published in 1988.
NDFN Chair KP Adhikari, speaking on the inauguration of the Nepali Sign Language dictionary containing 4300 symbols on May 28 2018 in Kathmandu, had said that there are 300,000 hearing-impaired people in Nepal with just around 30 interpreters.
Nepal is only beginning its journey towards more sign-language friendly destinations both on national and sub-national levels. On the state level, there is a dearth of adequate number of Nepali Sign Language interpreters, including experts of the International Sign Language or the American Sign Language.
However, in the last six months, there have been some endeavors towards the development of Nepali Sign Language in State-1. After the establishment of the National Federation of the Deaf of Nepal, State-1 Committee on November 14, 2019 under the leadership of Sitaram Ojha from Bhojpur district of the state, some visible progress in the Nepali Sign Language in State-1 has been made. Here are three of them:
Use of sign language in an official address of Chief Minister to the state citizens
Chief Minister of State-1 Sherdhan Rai became the first Chief Minister among Nepal’s seven states to use sign language in his official address to the state. CM Rai had addressed the state via NTV Itahari Channel, a government-owned television channel operating from Itahari, on April 13 2020 on the occasion of the new Nepali Year of 2077 BS. Sign language interpreter Santoshi Ghimire from Biratnagar had interpreted his telecast speech. Ghimire is an official sign language interpreter at Biratnagar-based Koshi Deaf Association. Sitaram Ojha, the President of the Federation of Deaf Association, State-1 Committee, had vigorously campaigned for the use of sign language in the important speech made by CM Rai.
Use of sign language in the Municipal Assembly of Biratnagar Metropolitan City
Biratnagar Metropolitan City is the only metropolis in State-1. The capital city of the state, Biratnagar became the first local government, out of 137 local governments of the state, to use sign language in its Municipal Assembly. On 24 June 2020, Biratnagar used sign language with interpretation by Santoshi Ghimire. This historic headway was pioneered by the active activism of Koshi Deaf Association based in Biratnagar.
Morang district, with Biratnagar as its headquarters, has 2423 hearing-impaired people. Biratnagar alone has 500 hearing impaired population. The sign language interpretation of the Municipal Assembly was live-streamed via social media platforms like facebook and was broadcasted live via Makalu Television of Biratnagar. Hearing impaired from across the state lauded this headway. ”This is a good beginning. We need to use sign language in all local and provincial governments as the constitution has guaranteed our rights to vital state information and affairs’,” remarked Santa Kumar Tumbapo, the principal at Bhojpur Deaf Residential Elementary School. He added, ”We urge other local governments to follow the suit.”
Sign language news from two television stations in the state
To the hearing-impaired community of the State-1, sign language news was a distant dream for years. However, with the formal beginning of the NTC Itahari Channel in Itahari in January 2020, Nepali Sign Language news finally got its opportunity to be aired for primetime news.
NTV Itahari has been running news in sign language ever since, with interpreters Santoshi Ghimire and Dijan Timsina signing news on the NTV Itahari news at 7 pm every day. NTV Itahari is the first television channel outside the federal capital of Kathmandu to begin Nepali Sign Language news. After NTV Itahari, another television channel from State-1 called the Himshikhar Television Channel also began broadcasting its news in Nepali Sign Language from July 20, 2020. The television channel now broadcasts its news in Nepali Sign Language at primetime news of 7 am in the morning.
Sign language interpreter Rasmi Luitel interprets the news, informed Dhruwa Neupane, the Chair of Himshikhar Media Private Limited, the company that runs the television channel since November 6, 2010. Neupane said that the news on Nepali Sign Language had begun to address the needs of the hearing-impaired community in the state. ”We are happy to hear exciting feedback from the targeted audience,” said Neupane speaking over phone to RSS.
Sitaram Ojha, the President of National Federation of the Deaf of Nepal, State-1 Committee, said, ‘ If Nepali Sign Language news is aired from all major television channels of the state, it will be a great contribution to the hearing-impaired community as well as to the interpreters.