When Sunny, a chartered accountant from Kottayam, and his wife, Betty, named one of their twin girls Sarah, which means 'noblewoman' or 'princess' in Hebrew, they didn't know she would go on to make history. By becoming the first Deaf Advocate in India, today Sarah has assured herself a place in the history of Indian Judiciary.
Sunny and Betty are basking in the glory of their daughter’s proud moment and this feat goes a long way to forget their past hardships. Undeterred by the realisation that the world of hearing was alien to all their three children, the couple instilled in the trio self-confidence and positivity very early. The parents here share with the Manorama Online their trials and tribulations as they raised the children.
Inquisitive, restless girl
Twin girls Sarah and Maria were born eight years after the birth of their son Pratik. Maria was a quiet child while Sarah was restless. Little Sarah always fought with her classmates and asked questions to adults without hesitation. Noticing her verve, her parents would say ‘When she grows up, she will become an advocate.’ Their guess was spot on. To the astonishment of those who thought hearing loss was a limitation, Sarah went on to study Law. Sarah and Maria attended the Clooney Convent School until the 10th grade and did their Plus Two at the St Claret School, both the institutions being in Bangalore.
The twins studied together until they passed B Com from Jyotinivas College in the same city. And when Mary preferred to follow her father’s career and chose Chartered Accountancy, Sarah had no doubt that she should study Law.
Copious support at home
Sarah pursed her dream course with confidence. She had definite plans and chose to specialise in the subject accordingly.
"The lack of previous role models to emulate was a serious challenge, but Sarah's confidence was above all. So we didn’t have to think twice to help her choose her favourite career and stay with her until her dreams come true," say Sunny and Betty.
Sarah chose the legal profession not just because of her interest in Law. She also wanted to set an example for others who had hearing loss and inspire them to bravely take the plunge into the challenging profession.
Sarah now wants to gain an in-depth understanding of Constitutional Law, Disability Law, and Human Rights Law, and then go to court to try cases of people with disabilities so that more such people can enter the field. Sarah has the right answer when asked how someone with a hearing loss can argue in court. Her answer: argue with an interpreter. Thus Sarah is trying to prove with her own life that there is no limit to dreams, come what may.
How Sarah could study Law?
Ever since Sarah was convinced that she was going to take up Law, we had been wondering which college to seek admission to and how the officials would react if they found out her condition. When I first enquired at a law college for admission, we were disappointed by their condescending attitude.
We didn’t want anyone to behave as if they were doing her a favour by giving her an admission, her parents recall, adding, when the St Joseph Law College was started later, Sarah was admitted to the first batch.
Sarah dispelled the doubts whether she could repeat her previous academic excellence while taking up Law too. She was brilliant in her studies while attending a regular school and college from first grade to graduation.
The authorities at the St Joseph Law College gave her admission in the very first batch when they came to know about her perseverance and her desire to pursue higher studies. They expected her to get excellent marks in legal subjects without seeing hearing inability as a hindrance.
Her old classmate too was with her at the Law college.
After studying with normal students, Sarah graduated in Law. The exam results came in February 2021, a little delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, she enrolled in the Karnataka Bar Council.
When Sarah succeeded in taking the first step towards the dream, we enquired if there was anyone else who had achieved similar success in this area. That search took us to the Access Mantra in Delhi. Its founder is a person with a hearing impairment. When I enquired there, I came to know that no one had been enrolled as a Deaf Advocate before. That is when we realised that Sarah was the first deaf advocate in the country.
Sarah is currently associated with the Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR) in Bangalore. The not-for-profit trust gives her more impetus to learn as well as practise Constitutional Law and Disability Law.
The Delhi-based National Human Rights Law Network made Sarah its member recently, courtesy the intervention of its founder Colin Gonsalves, a Supreme Court advocate.
“Sarah also received an invitation to Access Mantra's Deaf Woman Achievers programme. She was one of three girls invited to the event nationally. While one was a chess champion, the other was a beauty pageant winner. That is a great recognition. It is unforgettable to receive such an honour at an online meeting attended by 400 people from all over the world,” says Sunny.
Talents to the fore
"No child is born into this world without even a talent. It is through discovery and encouragement that a mother raises her children."
The greatest testimony to those words of Sarah's mother Betty is their lives. From a mother who feared that the world of art would be alien to her children due to hearing problems, she could be one who could make a few dance moves happily with her children.
Betty began teaching dance to her children at the age of three. To her amazement, the children quickly learned the steps. The utter joy and bewilderment on the faces of their teachers and friends on seeing her daughters' dance in perfect line and length, without missing a beat, still remain a beautiful memory for Betty.
"While teaching them dance, I would explain the meaning of the lyrics to her children which in turn helped them get the correct facial expressions," Betty remembers.
The mother considers it a blessing to have got an opportunity to dance with her daughters at a function during the last Malayalam New Year. Her heart swells with pride when she talks about her twins' achievements. They have won several prizes in painting, craftwork, and badminton. Her son Pratik was always interested in cricket. The daughters would dance in school and college and even taught it to their classmates.
Betty wants to believe that it is a miracle that they had the opportunity to display their talent in the world of arts and sports.
Pratik, the son of the Sunny-Betty couple, is now in Texas with his wife and two children and works in an IT firm. Sarah's twin sister. after finishing CA, now works for a French audit firm.
No one in the family has a hearing impairment. When we found out that the babies have the debility, we didn’t know what to do. It was God's blessing and the positive spirit that helped us sail through such tough times.
It has to be destiny that took us to a children’s school in Chennai that had no sign language course and also to enroll our son Pratik there, the couple says.
"The training we received from there has been very helpful in caring for our two younger children. After his training, Pratik was able to enroll in a regular school. At the age of 16 he was sent abroad. He finished an Engineering course and MS and has a family today. All three children studied the ICSE syllabus with normal students and got excellent marks and made their career dreams come true. We thank God for making it all happen," Betty beams as she narrates the family's achievements.
As parents of three hearing-impaired children, two things helped Sunny and Betty in parenting: a positive attitude and a quality living environment.
We were adamant that our children should be brought into the mainstream of society and shouldn’t be isolated ever. Though there were hurtful reactions, we did not falter. We believed in our children’s talent and wanted the best for them. We learnt to tackle the challenges head-on and made sure all our children studied in a normal school. We provided higher education according to their tastes and created an environment so that they learned to face life with confidence and courage. Attending public events with hearing aids boosted their self-confidence immeasurably. The family always took care to maintain a positive attitude and share everything with each other. We need to tell other parents to put a lot of emphasis on mutual communication, the couple adds.
"Parents and teachers can identify the strengths and weaknesses of children in the first place. The important thing is to recognise your child’s strengths and weaknesses, encourage his/her to work on their talents, and provide a conducive atmosphere at home. The biggest investment parents can give their children is their time. Never balk from providing them with the opportunity to live a self-sufficient life, education to their liking, and offering them career guidance. If God has limited them in any way, rest assured, the same God has given them the ability to overcome it. Your duty is to find that talent and nurture it. One of the best things you can perhaps do here is to forget what society thinks. As a parent, the only thing that matters should be your children’s welfare. Let not society make you blind to your child’s suffering. Bring them to the mainstream and make them a part of society. Never shut them inside homes. Assure them that they are as much part of society as everyone else. May they have the opportunity to spread their wings in the sky of dreams. This is the message we want to give to parents of children with disabilities," Sunny and Betty advise.
Sarah and Maria are now settled in their careers. The next step is to find a suitable partner for them. Their parents are now focused in that direction.
"We want to tell one more thing. Most parents show little interest in sending their special children abroad for higher education. They mostly send them to a vocational course after basic education. Please never ever do that. Never underestimate their potential and opt for a career that will only undermine their talent. There are so many job opportunities awaiting them abroad. A great horizon of opportunities awaits them if they turn their shortcomings into skill sets,"
These are the words of a mother and father who have fought against all odds to provide a life of dignity and self-sufficiency for their children.
The power of truth shines through.