Sarah Yonzan Giri never intended to become a sign-language expert. The wife of Nepal’s famous Panchayat-era prime minister, she was living in Bangalore in 2002 when she wandered into a class for sign language by chance.
“The room was silent, but there was a lot of animated signing going on,” Giri remembers. “They were shouting, but I could not hear them.”
She had found her life’s mission: advocacy of deaf rights. And recently, she has found that this passion extends to the rights of blind people as well. This has given her a unique vantage point from which she can compare the two worlds, and understand and articulate the unique needs of their inhabitants.
Read also: Sarah’s children
Giri recalls her moment of epiphany: “I realised that I had been Deaf with a capital D, or culturally deaf. I could hear very well, but I was completely deaf to the unique language of the deaf community.”
Back in Nepal, she started helping the deaf community organise art exhibitions, since the visible world is so important to those whose hearing is impaired. Every wall in Giri’s 3-storey house in Kathmandu is covered with works of deaf art — paintings that express the feelings and experiences of deaf people.
In one painting, bells clang and bricks fall to one side of the canvass, while feathers float on the other, suggesting that for deaf people, loud sounds fall as gently as down.
Giri says deaf people want a channel of communication with the rest of the world, but for that they need proper schools where they can learn standardised sign languages. If not, they will be stuck with making improvised signs and communicating only with those close to them.
Read also: Listening to the hearing impaired, Nunuta Rai