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Interviews

'Beating All Odds, Rewriting History On The Way' : In Conversation With Sarah Sunny, The First Deaf Lawyer Of India

Hannah M Varghese
9 March 2022 5:20 AM GMT
Beating All Odds, Rewriting History On The Way : In Conversation With Sarah Sunny, The First Deaf Lawyer Of India
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"You should lead next time."Justice Venu Gopal Gowda, former Judge of Karnataka High Court was all praise for young Sarah when she attended an arbitration proceeding with her colleagues from thiru & thiru law firm. Sarah Sunny was born deaf to her parents Sunny and Betty, but that did not stop her from going down in history. Driven by perseverance and hard work, she worked her way up...

"You should lead next time."

Justice Venu Gopal Gowda, former Judge of Karnataka High Court was all praise for young Sarah when she attended an arbitration proceeding with her colleagues from thiru & thiru law firm. 

Sarah Sunny was born deaf to her parents Sunny and Betty, but that did not stop her from going down in history. Driven by perseverance and hard work, she worked her way up to become the first deaf lawyer in the entire country, a milestone in India's legal sector. 

What is inspiring about Sarah is that despite living in a world of silence, she grew up to be the voice for others like her. An avid dancer and a motivated lawyer, she has no plans on letting her disability get in the way of her dream.

When we think of trailblazing women, we tend to look past everyday heroes. But when we heard of Sarah's story, we knew there was no better way to mark the occasion of International Women's Day. And Sarah was more than ready to share her story with the world. 

Speaking to LiveLaw through a virtual meeting, an enthusiastic and cheerful Sarah appeared on the screen. She was visibly excited and was surrounded by her colleagues, Advocates Ramya B.T, Disha G.P and Manik B.T. They helped her convey her words accurately to us and we knew at once that she was enveloped in an atmosphere with an abundance of understanding and affection. 

LiveLaw: How would you introduce yourself to the world?

I'm Sarah Sunny, and I am a deaf advocate. Of course, I'm the first deaf advocate in our country. I have chosen to overcome the challenges that my disability poses, and consider myself truly enabled because of my active listening skills and the normal education that I have received through the course of my professional education. I graduated with a three-year LL.B from St. Joseph's College of Law in Bangalore. Before pursuing my law degree, I graduated from Jyoti Nivas College in Bangalore, with a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce. My parents are Sunny and betty. My father is a chartered accountant from Kottayam. I have two siblings; Maria, my twin sister is a chartered accountant and my elder brother Pratik is an Engineer. 

LiveLaw: So you went to a regular school instead of attending a special school. Did you face any difficulties in this process? 

In the beginning, it was quite demanding. For instance, when I was in Grade 1, my classmates didn't know I was deaf. I had a hard time understanding what was going on in the class, but my teachers were extremely helpful. After 4th Grade, things changed. Everyone knew about me and I even made very close friends on the way. They helped me with everything. In fact, I'd say my school life was perfect (she happily gestures 'good' with her hands).

LiveLaw: How do you like to spend your free time?

Dancing! I love dancing with my twin sister. We've been dancing together since we were 4 years old. I have a lot of videos of us dancing too. 

LiveLaw: Your father is a Chartered Accountant, so is your twin sister. What made you choose law?

When I was young, I used to often argue with everyone about right and wrong. I'd call out on people and correct them. I always questioned things. Watching me being unapologetically argumentative, my father once said, 'you'll make a good lawyer.' Little did he know he was sowing the seeds of a dream in my life. Since then, it has been on my mind. I took it to heart and refused to settle for anything less. 

LiveLaw: Have you faced any hurdles while arguing with an interpreter before the court?

So far I have not appeared before the High Court. However, I did appear before several tribunals and for arbitration proceedings. They were quite understanding and patient with me. During one of my recent appearances, Justice Venu Gopal Gowda appreciated me so much, he even said I should lead the arbitration next time. (Sarah beams with pride)

Regardless, it may not be so easy at the High Court. The major hindrance would be the speed. I comprehend what others are saying by reading their lips. But unless they talk slow, it's difficult for me to pick up what they are communicating. The High Court may not always have the time to wait for me. Another issue is that the judges will be wearing their masks and this makes it impossible for me to function without an interpreter. But again, this would be time-consuming and I'm not yet sure if the Judges will welcome this setup. 

LiveLaw: What steps do you think would help the litigation field accommodate more people like you?

The first step would be to maintain an interpreter. If the courts have an atmosphere where people with disabilities do not feel rushed, I think more people would come to the fore and join the field. An interpreter would efficiently convey what we are arguing to the court and convey the judge's remarks back to us as well. 

Another thing that helps me is, like I said, when people talk slowly. It would make a great difference if the proceedings are slowed down just a bit when it's our turn to argue.

A software that reduces the communication gap between lawyers like me and the Judges would also be beneficial. There could perhaps be an option to type out everything we wish to communicate. There are numerous possibilities that could be explored in this area.  

But all of this boils down to one thing: mental block.  At the outset, I think it is the mindset of the people that needs a change. We overcome social hurdles like prejudice and avoidance so often. If everyone cooperates and demonstrates some patience when we are appearing in a case, maybe it would all be better. 

LiveLaw: What message would you like to pass on to those who share this disability?

People with disabilities think they can't make it big, but they are wrong. You should study, and get an education like other children. Don't limit yourself. I hope one day we learn to treat everyone equally despite their disabilities. One day, we'll make this world an inclusive place.   

(Interview ends)

As we wish her all the best for a soaring career in law, Sarah smiles hopefully. It's the kind of smile you see when they know they have it in them. Her path has definitely not been easy, but here she is, beating all the odds.

Sarah has paved the way for the legal fraternity to be more accommodating and patient. By breaking barriers, she has made the field more accessible to people like her.

She stands testimony to the fact that when armed with determination and courage, just about anyone can change the world, one small step at a time. 

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