Katie Anne Whiddon, a PhD student from CAWR and long-time interpreter for civil society organisations, has been contributing to a collaborative, cross-movement process in South Asia to promote language justice in civil society spaces. This objective – that speakers of all languages can understand and be understood in multilingual events – comes from movements’ common desire for inclusive and democratic spaces and a common effort to form a cross-movement pool of solidarity interpreters in South Asia. So far, more than sixty such interpreters have been trained, the fifth training happening just a week ago in Delhi (4–7 December, 2017).
India is the third most linguistically diverse country in the world, yet civil society meetings tend to default to English or Hindi, marginalising regional language speakers – particularly women and youth leaders – and inhibiting meaningful solidarity between grassroots communities. In countries where linguistic hegemony has been imposed as part of state and nation building, inclusion in lobbying, advocacy and political debate often correlates with the ability to speak the dominant language(s). This is reproduced in movements; monolingual spaces further lead to dilemmas on who can participate in events and gatherings. Overall, though linguistic diversity is recognised as a strength, the need for interpretation at national and regional conferences is mostly not addressed until the last minute. Key activists or CSO staff are often called upon to provide liaison interpreting to participants, with little or no prior notice, and in addition to many other responsibilities. Not only are their efforts to bridge languages often taken for granted, their capacity to actively participate in discussions is also compromised. Additionally, this double function raises issues of role conflict and power relations, aspects that have implications on legitimacy of voice and democratic deliberation. But the big question is, how can movements ensure language justice and more ‘inclusive’ participation, given limited human, financial, and physical resources?
Two and a half years ago, when the cross-movement effort to train a pool of interpreters emerged, the South Asian regional secretariat of La Via Campesina invited Katie to contribute to the process. A CAWR PhD student focusing on global governance, policies, and civil society struggles for access to natural resources, Katie was initiating her research in Nepal with a national member of La Via Campesina (a transnational agrarian movement), and Right to Food network member, FIAN Nepal. Given her fieldwork in the region, her decade of experience in interpretation within transnational food sovereignty fora, and her professional qualification as an interpreter and trainer, she was well situated to offer technical and professional inputs to the team. Over the past two years, together with local activist-interpreters, movement leaders, and colleagues from the interpretation field, this training process has reached trainees speaking more than 15 South Asian languages in India and Nepal, and several other trainers have been mobilised as well (Jorge Soriano and Zia Papar, as well as novice movement-based trainers Bhargavi Dilipkumar and Laura Valencia). Trainings have varied from event-based (School of Agroecology Amrita Bhoomi, Karnataka, 2015) to cross-movement technique-based workshops (Delhi, Kathmandu and Bangalore, 2017), and have always included political formation in addition to interpretation and language activation skills. The second workshop in Delhi (December 2017) contributed to the development of a curriculum and pedagogical approach for future trainings, and the long-term vision for a collective of interpreters.
Based on their lessons from the ground, participants have now committed to developing a common strategy and engaging with a broad spectrum of organisations including movements of farmers, women, students, labour rights, Dalits, Adivasi (indigenous and tribal peoples) and the LGBT community. Movement leaders have so far joined all Delhi and Kathmandu trainings, providing feedback, guidance, encouragement and much-appreciated speeches on pertinent topics from which to practise! The core team and other supporters have already given their time to create a glossary in eight South Asian languages for social movements (a first draft is available online), and are looking into prototypes for low-cost technologies for large gatherings. Through this collaborative effort towards language justice, movements will have access to a pool of trained interpreters who can help their members, particularly rural women, to achieve the ultimate goal of meaningful participation, inclusion, and protagonism in multilingual spaces. The South Asian collective of solidarity interpreters strives towards strengthening the voice of marginalised people in political spaces, so that they can have a bearing on a larger process towards social justice.
For more information and photos from our workshops so far, please see: