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The Time Has Come for Legal and Medical Interpreting in India
Posted by Vijayalaxmi Hegde on April 21, 2011  in the following blogs: Interpreting, Translation and Localization
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In multilingual India, one might expect translation and interpretation to be a roaring business, but as our past research shows this is not yet the reality on the ground (see “Translation as an Emerging Profession in India,” Oct10). While translation is seeing a steady rise in demand, professional interpreting is mostly restricted to the capital, New Delhi, and currently used primarily for diplomatic purposes.

But the state of things may soon change, because of imperative business and legal needs. As Indian business has been growing beyond borders, free movement of people to and from India has increased, which inevitably means more demand for language services, and thereby, interpretation, too. The drivers in India are different from those we find in many other countries. For example, in Sweden and the United Kingdom, the interpreting market has developed largely in response to immigrant and refugee populations.

Of late, two major trends have highlighted the potential for interpretation as a serious profession in India: medical tourism and criminal proceedings in international crime cases.

Interpreting is essential to the medical profession in a multilingual environment. And, Mmedical tourism has now created a new class of professionals in India – that of medical interpreters. Though medical tourists have been coming to India from all corners of the world, most get by without any major language hassle, thanks to the all-pervading English tolerance in India. But some patients from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other countries have a need for interpreters who speak West Asian languages, thus spawning the local market demand.

The other scenario of increased need for interpreting services is that of criminal proceedings in which persons who do not speak the local or national languages are involved. Mumbai police were recently stuck in their proceedings against captured Somali pirates, as no one in the force understood or spoke Somali.

Being denied access to interpreters often means that one is denied the right of speech, and hence, justice. Interpretation and translation are seen as the rights of people who have to face criminal proceedings in the EU and in many other countries in the world.

When interpreting is not recognized as a right, there may be delays in obtaining interpreters, if the authorities actually take the trouble to do so. And, even when they do, they may not be professional interpreters, thus leaving ample room for error in critical circumstances. The lack of legal interpreters was noticed only because it was a high-profile, international case of the Somali pirates. One can only guess the many instances where people may not have had any way to put their case forward, simply because there wasn’t an interpreter around.

Our last study of the Indian languages services market revealed that Indian language service providers obtained 75.6% of their revenue from translation work (see “The Indian Language Services Market,” Jul10).  Other services, such as web globalization and internationalization were common, but interpreting did not yet represent a significant portion of their overall business. 

In summary, while medical tourism represents a business opportunity to language service providers (LSPs) in India who are paying attention, judiciary interpreting is also something that attorneys, legal advocates, and policymakers in India need to put in place as quickly as possible.  


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