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May 30, 2005

Tea and conversations with Lahore's deaf

From: Daily Times - Lahore,Pakistan - May 30, 2005

By Shahnawaz Khan

LAHORE: In the heart of the city on Temple Road lies one of the oldest tea stalls in Lahore. Every evening as the sun sets, 'Yahkoo da hotel', as it is popularly known, is the scene of heated, but silent, conversations.

The tea stall is a popular meeting place for the city's deaf, who gather there to discuss every topic under the sun, in sign language of course.

The owner of the tea stall says deaf people have been gathering here for more than 30 years. "Most of them are valued patrons to us," said Pervez, popularly known to his customers as 'Bao'. Bao is fluent in sign language and acted as a translator for Daily Times.

Muhammad Naeem has been a regular visitor. Born deaf and mute, he said was only able to speak and hear a little after he went for Haj in 1964.

Rashid Khan, another regular, works at a bank as an operator. "We gather at this place every day because we don't have any other place to interact with similar people," he told Daily Times in writing.

"More than 90 percent of deaf people in Lahore don't have proper jobs despite the fact that they are professionally skilled and properly educated," he said. "To this date we do not have any data on the deaf population of Pakistan."

Khan said a lack of deaf schools, qualified teachers and unemployment are the main problems of deaf people. He said there was only one school for deaf people in Lahore. He said teachers were incompetent and had no specialised training to teach deaf children.

He urged the government to make sign language the official language of the deaf at legislative level; train teachers for the deaf; and provide free primary education to deaf children. "Government jobs should be open for deaf people at local and national level. The government should reserve a two per cent job quota for the deaf and they should be given legal driving licences like other disabled persons," said Khan.

He said deaf people should be consulted when the government drafts policies affecting their welfare, they should be represented in parliament, they should be given discounts on medical bills and 50 percent discounts on travel.

Shahid Majeed, an excellent deaf cricketer, holds a secondary school certificate and a diploma in computer typing. "I submitted several applications for jobs but found nothing, so now I work as a waiter."

He said Lahore's deaf people established several societies and welfare organisations and also an international cricket team, which is affiliated with the Pakistan Deaf Cricket Association.

Muhammad Naeem, Shaukat Sultan, Riaz Ahmad Khan, Amir Butt, Saqib, Amir, Younas Akbar and Usman also spoke of employment problems and appealed for special job quotas for the deaf in government.

Qudsia Lodhi, Punjab minister for special education, said the government had raised the budget for special education to Rs 40 million. She said there was a government school for the deaf in Lahore and a private school run by the Hamza Foundation in Johar Town.

She admitted that there was no entertainment place for deaf people to go to. She said her ministry would draw up proposals for a club for special people in the city after conducting a detailed survey of disabled people throughout the province.

Khalida Khursheed, Licensing Authority deputy superintendent of police, said deaf people could get driving licences if they were first declared fit to drive by a medical board.

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