Delhi-based Jugneet Kaur often wondered as a child why her parents communicated with the help of sign language and the rest of her extended family members spoke verbally. She knew her parents were different but only really understood it as she started growing up. She realised everyone is born with unique capabilities and that her parents’ inability to speak or hear was their strength. She accepted that she was a CODA (child of deaf adults) and knew she had to do everything in her power to make her family feel included in a world that often made them feel isolated, different and not normal.
In an interview SheThePeople, Jugneet Kaur discusses her life as CODA, her challenges while growing up, how her parents inspired her, and her efforts to make the Indian Sign Language popular and common in the country.
CODA Jugneet Kaur interview
On dealing with being a CODA
Twenty-one-year-old Jugneet Kaur and her older sister, Charneet Kaur are hearing children of deaf parents, Suninder Kaur and Manvinder Singh. Kaur, who was raised in a joint family, is thankful for the multilingual environment she grew up in and understands languages including Hindi, Punjabi, English and Indian Sign language (ISL). “My extended family taught me how to read and write and my parents taught me basic sign language,” says Kaur.
When asked whether her parents’ situation bothered her as a child, she continues, “Of course, as a child, I was bothered because I couldn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Some people sympathised with my family on one hand, while most people mocked my family, which disturbed me a lot while growing up.”
Kaur recalls when she shied away as a child from using sign language in public. She was concerned by what society would think, but she learned with time how important it was to own her identity and be proud of who she is.
“I am a proud CODA but it is really my parents who, without using words, taught me through their confidence that owning our individualities is the most significant factor if we have to move forward in life. What inspired me most was how they owned their identities and survived in a world that often made them feel isolated.”
On bridging the gap between her and parents
Kaur started seeing how her parents were so confident with who they were and looking at her sister work in sync with them, she realised the power her family held. “I decided to bridge the gap between me and my parents. While I knew the basic sign language, I made it my utmost mission to learn ISL. I researched, worked harder than ever, and learned the language gradually. I started communicating more and also understood what the deaf community goes through daily while surviving in this society,” she recalls.
Kaur’s older sister, Charneet did a lot of communication on behalf of her parents when it came to dealing with the outside world, and Kaur learned that from her and continued the tradition thereon. “My sister and I help our parents with whatever they require when it comes to communication with the outside world, especially in places which are not deaf-friendly. I do feel I grew up much earlier and became independent and responsible from an early age. Whether it was studying, dealing with doctors, or banks, I learnt to do everything myself.”
Life as CODA isn’t easy either, with unsurmountable challenges and bridging the gap between the hearing community and the deaf community is something a CODA has to balance out effectively. “Of course, communicating with parents too is difficult sometimes, especially when I am not at home or when there is less lighting or a bad network because signs are all we have to see what the other person feels or says. But we manage it together as a family,” she shares.
“Instead of calling me a Bechari, which I am not, I would urge people to learn more about ISL and become more empathetic towards the deaf-community and not isolate them.”
Quest to make Indian Sign Language popular
Some see learning sign language as a bonus while others see it as a disadvantage for people who must learn it mandatorily. Kaur, however, feels it’s always a bonus. Stressing how American Sign Language is different from Indian Sign Language, she says if we were to make the society in this country more inclusive and hearing-impaired friendly, it’s important for a place doing that to understand basic ISL and not follow ASL. “Empathy is required as a foremost step if we need to up our quotient of inclusivity, however, practical solutions are the need of the hour now and we must implement those.”
“Sign language connects to other people’s perspectives.”
Kaur is striving towards making ISL popular. “I want to create a safe space for the CODAs and want to make people aware of the deaf community and sign language. I am motivating hearing people to learn basic signs to make our community more inclusive. I don’t want hearing-impaired people to go through what my parents did. I am participating in workshops and giving seminars in this regard at various places that are looking to adopt more inclusivity when it comes to the hearing-impaired community,” she shares.
Kaur has been actively involved in campaigns that support the use of ISL. She is helping workplaces which are looking to make amendments in this regard. As someone who holds experience from belonging to a hearing-impaired family, Kaur gives her necessary inputs on various platforms via social media, too, to help spread the word more effectively.
Her attempt to make society aware that her family is just like one of us is a never-ending phenomenon “At times, I wish I was able to explain to the world how normal my family is. Yes, my parents are hearing impaired, so what if our communication of medium is signs? I take it in stride. I am lucky to be born to my parents and want to tell everyone how proud I am of the life I have as I feel it’s a bonus to connect with perspectives that can’t be heard or said.”
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