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India: Supreme Court precedent was set by India’s first deaf lawyer

Sarah Sunny created history when she became the first deaf lawyer to present a case before India's Supreme Court


In India after the court granted an exception and permitted a sign language interpreter to assist her with the arguments, the 27-year-old made her initial appearance before Chief Justice DY Chandrachud in September. For the first time in the court’s history. The court also designated its own interpreter for Ms. Sunny on October 6 so that “she could understand what was going on” during the hearings. “In fact, we are thinking that for the constitution bench hearings we will have an interpreter so that everyone can follow the proceedings,” stated Justice Chandrachud.

According to observers, Ms. Sunny’s appointment to the highest court would contribute to the Indian legal system. Being more diverse and accommodating of the demands of the deaf community.

Ms. Sunny

Ms. Sunny, who resides in Bengaluru India is a lawyer with two years of experience. She said that the judges in the city’s lower courts prohibited her from using an interpreter because they believed they had the necessary legal expertise to comprehend legal jargon. She would then put her points in writing. Although Saurav Roychowdhury has not studied law, he has experience translating for lawyers and legal students and served as Ms. Sarah’s interpreter when she first appeared before the Supreme Court. Additionally, he has represented deaf attorneys in two cases before the Delhi High Court.

However, at the time, no Indian sign language interpreter is trained in legal jargon. Bengaluru is where Ms. Sunny was born. Her brother Pratik Kuruvilla and twin sister Maria Sunny both have hearing loss. Ms. Maria is a chartered accountant, and Mr. Kuruvilla was a software developer in the US who is now a teacher at a deaf school in Texas.

Their parents did not want their kids to attend schools specifically for deaf kids. It was challenging to locate a location that would accept the three siblings, but they eventually located the ideal location for them.

Equal rights for Deafs

The court’s ruling, according to the interpreter Mr. Roychowdhury, may also imply that “the deaf will realise that they also have an equal right under the law.” According to the 2011 Census, there were 18 million deaf or hard of hearing persons living in India. To ensure that persons who are deaf receive their legal right to accessibility, it is good to put sign language in the forefront, according to Mr. Roychowdhury. The need for more interpreters in courts, he continued, will provide job possibilities for them. “There are approximately 400-500 certified interpreters [in the country] but in reality only 40-50 are skilled, qualified and doing ethical work,” said Roychowdhury.

Courts move “A Blessing”

The court’s decision was hailed as “a blessing” and “a barrier remover” by Ranjini Ramanujam, an IT professional who was born deaf. Ms. Ramanujam, a former badminton player, received India’s second-highest sporting distinction in 1999. “The Supreme Court’s move has given a voice to the deaf,” she stated. “The court has set an example for other offices to follow as well.”



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