‘Inclusivity Through Music’: India’s First Sign Language Rap Video

Hai janam ye bas ek hi
Din ye kam karam anek hai
Nigaah to mili hai sab ko hi
Par ye mann se na hai dekhte

In the video below, India rap artist and poet, Nitin Mishra recites these lines as singer and interpreter Hardeep Singh translates the lyrics into the Indian Sign Language (ISL), rhythmically waving his hands around.

Mishra, also known as Spitfire, released the song last year as part of a four-track video project that resulted in his EP Paathshala. He was also the voice behind Ranveer Singh’s rap songs in the film Gully Boy.

This is the first ISL video released by IncInk, an independent platform which encourages inclusivity in art, in collaboration with Acciomango and Access Mantra Foundation. Acciomango is a community-based startup founded by deaf expert Dr Alim Chandani. The organisation aims to create equal opportunities for the deaf community. Chandani is also the CEO of Access Mantra Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that makes essential information accessible to those with a hearing impairment.

“In 2019, we pledged to make our music accessible to the deaf community and have kickstarted this promise by sharing our music with them through Indian Sign Language,” says the press note released by IncInk.

Also read: ‘Making Art Accessible’: India’s First Braille Graffiti at Jadavpur University

The initiative is also aimed at making ISL the 23rd official language in the country – an official petition filed by the National Association of the Deaf (India) with support from the Access Mantra Foundation.

The global pandemic and the lockdown has proved to be a double whammy for the deaf community as most of the essential information isn’t available in sign language. According to the IncInk members, this wouldn’t have been an issue if ISL was an official language.

Music and inclusivity

Hence, IncInk decided to use music to make that happen.

As the title ‘Vartalap’ suggests, the IncInk members say that the collaboration intends to open up a conversation with over 10 million deaf people across the country. To that end, Chandani appointed Singh to interpret the video in the ISL, who found the lyrics relatable on multiple levels.

“When I was intepreting this song, I immensely felt connected to it. Vartalap means “important conversation” and as a deaf person, I have experienced the struggles of having a valuable conversation conveying my thoughts and feelings to people,” said Singh.

Music and arts, he adds, are the most valuable things in his life.

“Without these two essential needs, my life would have no meaning. We are now using music as a way to spread messages, and I feel people would listen more and become more empathetic to our needs,” he said.


hand gestures depicting V-A-R-T-A-L-A-P using Indian sign language.

Video collaborations and other initiatives like these, the press note says, intends to make the world inclusive for all. According to Chandani’s research covering over 40 schools for hearing-impaired children, 90% of the teachers did not even sign in sign language. Music, he says, is the best way to make the deaf community a part of the mainstream.

From my perspective as a deaf expert, I see a window of opportunity to spread awareness on sign language through music. Seeing a deaf interpreter interpreting the artist’s lyrics is one way of showing how we can create an inclusive community by inviting you (non-signers) to our world,” he said.

Navzar Eranee, co-founder of IncInk, spoke of how technology has been helping bridge the gap between the persons with disability and others across the world.

“Acceptance and access leads to independence. Independence and empowerment leads to technology and advancement. It’s a long road from interpretation, to feeling music and then to hearing it. Technology all over the world is aiding people to transcend such limitations,” she said.

“This is a start, in a small way a big step.”

(Note: Here is a compiled list of ISL interpreters who are volunteering for deaf people visiting hospitals for cases that are related to COVID-19. The list of these interpreters can be found on www.accessmantra.com. Interpreters are ready to provide video remote interpreting calls for anyone who needs their service.)