Visuals of the sign language bible available in the website / Photo: Jehovah's Witnesses
It was in 2018 that Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre under the Government of India rolled out a first Indian Sign Language (ISL) Dictionary of 3,000 terms. This was a major push to information access for the deaf and hearing communities.
It was almost in the same period that the restorationist group Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) took baby steps for the New World Translation of the Greek Scriptures in ISL. A small team of translators and their support staff who volunteered for the laborious conversion process stood the test of time. They were able to complete the work despite the odds of the Covid-19 pandemic period.
“With government regulations on physical distancing, working in-person was not possible. As a result, video conferencing tools were used. Most of the recordings were done in private homes. We had to translate, sign, record, all by ourselves and then upload it for other members of the team to check and inform us using the same method. It was very time consuming, but it was worth the effort,” explained one of the translators who worked on the project.
The completed version of the bible was officially launched on the jw.org website on January 30, 2022. Every day more than 4,000 web users have been using the Christian Greek Scriptures in ISL, said a JW representative.
“In the past, there has been translation of a few passages of the Bible. But they were literal and difficult to understand. But this is the first ever verse by verse translation of the entire Greek scriptures in ISL. Special care was taken to keep the translation consistent throughout the text. I feel this Bible will be easy to understand by most deaf persons in India, even if they know limited sign language,” said another translator.
The idea of first-of-its kind bible in ISL was kindled by the positive feedback from many deaf towards the translation of the Bible book of Mark. Interestingly, four deaf and two hearing persons worked as translators on the conversion project. While three other persons worked as support staff.
“Earlier, I couldn't read the Bible. Now, I enjoy reading in ISL. The illustrations are so clear and easy to understand in ISL. Reading the Bible now helps me to be hopeful and cope with the terrible world events,” conveyed Dhanashree, a person with hearing difficulties from Maharashtra's Pandharpur.
Meanwhile, another translator pointed out that,”Since Indian Sign Language is not an official language yet, there is some variation in the way deaf people sign throughout the country. Hence, it was a challenge to produce a Bible that is easily understood by the majority.”
Apart from the bible, the website also contains educational material in ISL. According to JW, more than 2,200 people visit the website every day to browse it. The website is updating a variety of content in ISL. The themes include how to maintain a positive outlook in life, how to manage stress, handle unemployment, protect children from abuse and more.
“'We face challenges daily with things that are easy for others. 'Whether deaf or not, everyone needs good practical advice and having our educational videos widely available in all these languages has helped countless people to cope with daily pressures, to ease their physical and emotional distress, and to find meaning and purpose in life,” conveyed Aviral, a deaf person who has been using the website.
JW is supported by voluntary contributions, and hence content can be availed without any additional charges.