NEW DELHI: Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, Ladakhi, Assamese are among the Indian languages which can be heard at this year's Republic Day camp here, but there is a particular one being also used by various contingents - sign language, adding a layer of inclusivity to the diversity that the ceremonial event represents.
The language of hand gestures has worked as a bridge of communication for not only people with hearing and speech disabilities who are taking part in the camp, but also for those who can speak and hear, at a time when masks have hidden facial expressions and social distancing is the new normal.
A group of 12 youngsters from the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC), in their matching blue uniforms, can be seen interacting with each other and with members of other tableaux contingents on the premises of the camp at Delhi Cantonment.
Delhi-based ISLRTC, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, conducts courses for developing Indian sign languages interpreters and teachers and provides interpretation services for various events.
"This year, the ministry's tableau will represent our institution and all the boys and girls who are part of it are very excited.
They may not be able to tell that verbally, but through non-verbal gestures they have conveyed their joy," said Shavita Sharma of the institution.
While craftsmen are giving finishing touches to the ISLRTC's tableau, which has huge models of a few hands folded in interpretive gestures, letters and other elements, its members are using the camp time to bond with others, transcending all linguistics barriers.
The theme of the tableau is 'Bharatiya Sanketik Bhasha: Ek Rashtra, Ek Sanketik Bhasha'.
Pankaj Kumar, who hails from Dholpur Rajasthan, was doing his course at ISLRTC online due to COVID-19 restrictions and was happy to physically attend the camp and experience the country's diversity in one place.
Gargi, 21, who has finished a course in D.Ed (Hearing Impairment), helps him and other with hearing disabilities in communicating with people who can hear.
"I am getting trained at the institute and it's a very different experience, sometimes the language is not that we can hear, but we can feel.
We may speak a language very fluently, but the society also needs a language of empathy for people with any disability," she said.
Gargi, even while interacting with staff at the camp canteen, uses sign language along with verbal communication.
She is getting trained in sign language by persons with hearing disability at the institute.
"It's also my language now and I am proud of it. Gestures speak when words fail," she told PTI.
Sharma of the ISLRTC said due to COVID-19 everyone is wearing a mask and so it is difficult for those with hearing disabilities to communicate as "they can't see facial expressions".
"So, at many places outside, transparent masks were introduced so they could understand and interpret the lips movement and facial expressions," she said.
The camp has a diverse set of contingents and at times language becomes a barrier between people from different regions of the country when it comes to communicating thoughts.
"But sign language is universal. Two deaf persons from foreign countries can immediately talk to each other, but say an Indian and a Chinese person may need help of an interpreter.
And even members of other states and other tableaux contingents have bonded with our students, especially the CRPF personnel, who also sometimes use non-verbal communication," she added.
It gives to the society a greater sense of inclusivity amid this linguistics and cultural diversity, Sharma asserted.
At the 72nd Republic Day, 17 states and union territories will showcase their tableaux, besides those by nine ministries and six from the defence arm.
States represented in this year's ceremonial parade include Gujarat, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, besides Delhi and Ladakh, which is making its debut as a young UT on Rajpath.
Diksit Palmo, who hails from Leh, is excited that Ladakh will have its very own tableau, symbolising the rich cultural heritage of the region.
"We are maintaining social distancing while speaking to members of our own contingent too and we use hand gestures sometimes to communicate as well," she said.
The camp is like a mini-India and everyone must feel included, Palmo said.