An open letter to our deaf daughter from Palwal

09 October 2020
Characters that spell out the word ‘STOP’ in Indian Sign Language. Crimes against deaf and mute people, particularly sexual crimes against deaf and mute children, are common in India. Activists argue they can be avoided if the government gives accessible education in sign language to deaf and mute people.
Illustration by Sukruti Anah Staneley
Characters that spell out the word ‘STOP’ in Indian Sign Language. Crimes against deaf and mute people, particularly sexual crimes against deaf and mute children, are common in India. Activists argue they can be avoided if the government gives accessible education in sign language to deaf and mute people.
Illustration by Sukruti Anah Staneley

On 25 August, a ten-year-old deaf girl was kidnapped, raped and murdered in Haryana’s Palwal district. Her mother, sister and brother are also deaf. The Times of India reported that when her family tried to register a complaint with the police, they were turned away. Crimes against deaf and mute people, particularly sexual crimes against deaf and mute children, are common in India. In the past year alone, such cases have been reported in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir, among many others. Deaf and signing activists argue that the government’s failure in providing easy access to specialised teaching techniques for deaf and mute people keeps them unable to communicate effectively and stop such crimes. Saudamini Pethe, a law student and activist for the deaf community, who is Deaf herself, writes an open letter to the minor who was murdered in Haryana. 

My dearest deaf daughter,

I am left with nothing but a feeling of helpless anger and an abyss of sadness, due to the cruel incident of rape and murder of an innocent soul such as yours.

I, as an empowered Deaf woman, cannot accept this fate for you, given the fact that you were raped and killed by unabashed predators. What am I to do? I know of your vulnerability, your inability to protect yourself, which these rapists have exploited through their act, by demonstrating a manifestation of the pure patriarchal and criminal mentality that tells them they can get away with it. A deaf child who cannot express or communicate was an easier target for them to rape and murder, and still roam scot-free.

When I reflect on what could be and what should be, I am left in awe of the enormity of the issues underlying such an incident. My mind is overrun with innumerable unanswered questions of how and why, and the means of preventing anything like this from happening ever again. I am writing this letter with a ray of hope that all the concerned stakeholders—parents, educators, local administration, police officials and Indian society at large—will understand the dire need for early intervention, prevention and empowerment of a deaf child, regardless of gender.

Saudamini Pethe is the first Deaf woman (DLAW Fellow) pursuing Law in India.  She is a prominent Deaf activist who has been working in the field of Deaf empowerment.

Keywords: deaf Indian Sign Language sign language rape murder National Education Policy
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