In a first, the Bar Council of Delhi has made way for a deaf advocate - Saudamini Pethe, who will now be at the forefront to advocate for the rights of the hearing impaired and help make the legal system of the country more accessible to them. The 45-year-old would be placing her arguments for trials in Indian Sign Language (ISL), and an interpreter would be speaking on her behalf.
Before her enrollment as an advocate, many believed it impossible for the differently abled community to take up roles within the legal profession. Proving that they can represent cases in their own language, Saudamini seeks to be an inspiration for the specially-abled community to join the Bar and the Benches to contribute to the cause of their community.
Making Spaces A Lot More Accessible
Saudamini lost her hearing capacity after being affected by meningitis and taking strong medicines to tackle it at the young age of nine. Not considering her hearing challenges to be a barrier, she went ahead and completed her masters in the English language from Mumbai University and began working as a documentation executive at the Noida Deaf Society. Until then, she used to communicate with people using techniques such as lip-reading and writing responses. It was only after joining the Deaf Society that she picked up Indian Sign Language (ISL) and began signing her thoughts and ideas.
She then pursued LLB at the Institute of Law and Research and enrolled with the Bar Council in the capital city by November. Saudamini now aims to use her legal degree to advocate for deaf rights and make it possible for the community to gain equal access in every aspect of life, from education and health care to most importantly, justice.
A report by the New Indian Express quoted her saying, "I also want to spread more awareness and empower the deaf by equipping them with the knowledge of their legal rights and become capable of ensuring that these rights are fulfilled." Presently, she is the director of the All India Foundation of Deaf Women and a trustee at the Access Mantra Foundation.
Fighting Past Negative Connotations
The Chairman of Delhi Bar Council, Senior advocate KK Manan, said, "We have given the licence to her to practice, which is rarely given in such a situation. But we would like to settle her so that she can stand on her own feet." They hope that the opportunity will enable Saudamini to earn a livelihood for herself and her family and open many more doors for the deaf community.
All along her journey, Saudamini has faced many communication barriers and challenges due to the lack of accessibility in schools, colleges, public transport, and every other aspect. Language played a crucial role in her life, which is also why she believes that words like 'disability' and 'impairment' place negative connotations on the community and build a social barrier. Explaining this issue further, she spoke of her hardships while enrolling as a lawyer with no communication access available at the Bar.
"I was surprised to find that there was neither any category for the disabled in the bar council form nor any relevant quota. I seriously feel this needs to be addressed on a national level," she conveyed. Throughout the procedure, she had to borrow her son's time in order to have someone by her side to interpret the official formalities, filings, and meetings with the authorities. With her enrollment, she hopes to bring a change within this system and ensure the differently abled community is not denied access to any space.
Also Read: Hear Us Out! This Woman Started Petition To Make Helplines Accessible For The Hearing Impaired