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International Sign Language Day: three headways of Nepali Sign Language in State-1

Birat Anupam, SUNSARI:- Today (September 23) marks the third International Sign Language Day. International Sign Language Day was officially adopted by the United Nations on 19 December 2017 and was started to be 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 WFD, there are 72 million deaf people worldwide. There exist 300 different sign languages including Nepali Sign Language. Nepali sign language is just 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 only in 1988.
NDFN chair KP Adhikari, speaking on the inauguration of the Nepali Sign Language dictionary containing 4300 symbols on 28 May 2018 at Kathmandu, said there are 300,000 hearing-impaired people in Nepal with just around 30 interpreters.
Nepal is just beginning its march 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, not to talk about experts of International Sign Language or American Sign Language.
However, in the last six months, there have been some creative endeavors towards the development of Nepali Sign Language in State-1. After the establishment of National Federation of the Deaf of Nepal, State-1 Committee on 14 November 2019 under the leadership of Sitaram Ojha from Bhojpur district of the state, some visible progress in the Nepali Sign Language in the State-1 is made. Here are three of them:
1. Use of sign language in an official address of Chief Minister to the state citizens
Chief Minister of State-1 Sherdhan Rai has become the first Chief Minister among Nepal’s seven states to use sign language in his official address to the state. CM Rai addressed the state via NTV Itahari Channel, a government-owned television channel operating from Itahari, on 13 April 2020 on the occasion of the new Nepali Year of 2077 BS. Sign language interpreter Santoshi Ghimire from Biratnagar 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 an important speech of CM Rai.

2. 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 the interpretation by Santoshi Ghimire. This historic headway was pioneered by 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.”

3. Sign language news from two television stations of 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 NTC Itahari Channel at Itahari in January 2020, Nepali Sign Language news got an opportunity to be aired for primetime news.
NTV Itahari started its first ever news in sign language since. Santoshi Ghimire and Dijan Timsina are Nepali Sign Language interpreters at NTV Itahari news which airs at 7 pm every day.
NTV Itahari is the first television channel outside the federal capital Kathmandu to begin Nepali Sign Language news. After NTV Itahari, another television channel from State-1 called Himshikhar Television Channel also started broadcasting its news in Nepali Sign Language from 20 July 2020. The television channel 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 6 November 2010. Neupane said the news on Nepali Sign Language was started to address the hearing-impaired community of 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 would be a great contribution to the hearing-impaired community also to the interpreters. RSS

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