DEHLI. — Last week, Sarah Sunny made history after she became India’s first deaf lawyer to argue in the country’s Supreme Court.
The 27-year-old first appeared before Chief Justice DY Chandrachud in September after the court made an exception and allowed a sign language interpreter to assist her with the arguments.
On 6 October, the court also appointed its own interpreter for Ms Sunny, the first in the court’s history, so that “she could understand what was going on” during the proceedings.
“In fact, we are thinking that for the constitution bench hearings we will have an interpreter so that everyone can follow the proceedings,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Observers say that Ms Sunny’s presence in the top court would help make the Indian legal system more inclusive and accommodative to the needs of the deaf community.
Senior lawyer Menaka Guruswamy called it a “truly historic and momentous” occasion.
Sanchita Ain, the lawyer with whom Ms Sunny works, told the BBC that Ms Sunny’s work would have positive, long-term implications. “She has broken many stereotypes, this will encourage more deaf students to study law and make the legal system accessible to the deaf,” she said.
A resident of the southern city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), Ms Sunny has been practising law for two years.
In the city’s lower courts, she was not allowed to use an interpreter because the judges thought they would not have the required legal knowledge to understand legal terminology, she said.
So she would submit her arguments in writing.
Saurav Roychowdhury, who interpreted for Ms Sarah when she first appeared before the Supreme Court, has not studied law but has experience of translating for lawyers and legal students.
He has also appeared in the Delhi High Court in the past for deaf lawyers in two cases.
But no Indian sign language interpreter is trained in legal terminology at the moment — and so for anyone translating, it’s going to be a work in progress
Ms Sunny told the BBC that she was proud of how far she had come.
“I wanted to show those who are cannot hear that if I can do it, they can also do it.”
Ms Sunny was born in Bengaluru.
Her twin sister Maria Sunny and her brother Pratik Kuruvilla are also deaf. Mr Kuruvilla is a software engineer in the US and now teaches at a school for the deaf in Texas, while Ms Maria is a chartered accountant.
Their parents did not want their children to study in special schools for deaf children. Finding a place that was willing to take in the three siblings was hard, but they eventually found the right place for them.
In class, Ms Sunny studied by lip reading and with the help of her friends. — BBC.