“I have no use for sound, God made me deaf”

Beyond Silence is a short documentary made by Vidya Utlatay on the deaf community in India. Vidya writes on her website that the “film is a celebration of deafness”.

Several of the people in the film say they are pretty happy about being deaf, and even that they are happy for more people to become deaf also. A couple talking about their first child say that “if he/she is hearing, we’ll be happy,” and with a big smile they add that they’ll be even happier if the child is deaf. It’s great to see any group of people enjoying and happy with their lives and their communities – and it’s even better to see this when it’s a group that faces the challenges that the deaf do in modern India.

Part of their happiness is clearly an assertion about the various choices they make, and the impact those choices have on life, work and play. Which is better – sign-language, hearing-aids, cochlear implants? This is an active debate in rich countries also and the documentary shows some Indian twists on this debate. Cochlear implants are accused of being a money-making venture for doctors – an accusation that is much more relevant in a country with unregulated and often opportunistic health-care providers. Interesting experiences with hearing aids are shown – how children will use them selectively and then be punished by parents and teachers for doing so; even when the hearing aids are uncomfortable and of limited help. Someone laughs and says she only uses the hearing-aid to listen to music.

Now there is debate even in resource-rich environments on whether sign-language or cochlear implants are the way forward (see for example a recent exchange on learning to sign). The documentary doesn’t explore this, but the argument for investment and diffusion of sign-language is even stronger in a country like India where resources for effective treatment or assistive technology are fewer. The argument for promotion of sign-language in India is based on economic terms, too.

“It is against my culture to speak,” says one of the participants, who like the majority of people in the film are proud of and celebrating deaf culture. It’s great to have a video that shows some of the richness within the signing community.

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