Spotlight on...Bharti Kothari

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

Bharti – a name which in Indian Sanskrit, means “Cherished”. In the Hindu language and religion, Bharti is the “Goddess of knowledge and education”. Both meanings seem apt for Bharti as she is from a large, warm, loving family and is a woman of many accomplishments and hidden talents, all achieved through her love of education and learning.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Bharti is proud to be a Kenyan Indian from a Hindu family. She describes her cultural heritage as Indian and she currently resides in the South East of England. She began her career in sign language interpreting within the education setting as a Communication Support Worker (CSW). She qualified in 2016, becoming a Registered Sign Language Interpreter.

Working within the Asian Deaf community as a sign language interpreter opened avenues for her to explore and address issues facing the Asian Deaf community by providing them with much needed access to information, communication, and support. This work has taken her overseas, interviewing officials providing special education, visiting schools for the Deaf and the Deafblind, Sense International India and sign language interpreting services in India and Kenya. In the UK, Bharti played a pivotal role in the setting up of a Deaf-led voluntary organisation and an interpreting agency offering tri-lingual interpretation services.

Amongst her many ventures (which has included modelling at one point), Bharti is a published author, businesswoman, a multi linguist…and was a contestant in the popular quiz show, Winner Takes All.

“My culture, my family and the ties I have with my community is what makes me who I am today.”

Bharti: I am a proud Kenyan Indian and the way I was brought up by my parents, there is nothing I would like to change, especially arriving to a strange country, the UK, with my 8 brothers and sisters, the youngest being […] 2 months [old]. My parents did an incredible job of raising us to be fine citizens. My father’s motto used to be, “Get a degree, which will set you up for life. Put in hard work and dedication, whatever the job!”, and that is what we have strived to do.

I married into a traditional Indian family, and I have such respect for my husband’s parents who treated me with the utmost respect, encouragement and equality. Along with them, I have my husband’s unconditional support. As a community, Indian families have a strong work ethic and strong family ties, hence, there exists a good network of support, as well as support from my faith community. My religion is my identity and is especially important to me. Hinduism has given me a good grounding in life and has taught me not to take things for granted. I believe what you give is what you get back in the form of Karma!

The people in my life, first and foremost, my parents, have been the biggest influences in my personal and professional growth. Their example of a life of self-sacrifice for the benefit of me and my siblings, gave us a good foundation, and for me a good start in life. Even though they were penniless, they took the very brave decision to move the WHOLE family of 9 children to the UK and made sure each one of us were safe and educated. Whilst, working all the hours God sent, they made sure that we never had to go without. In fact, their self-sacrificing spirit even extended to our neighbours' children. I remember my parents, on hot days, made sure that our neighbours' children were also treated to ice-creams (a luxury at that time), along with us their own children.

My mother, the nurturer of the family, taught us important life skills, and had to bear with 9 different, very stubborn, and head-strong children, even after the loss of my father after a very short time of settling here in the UK.

My family and friends would describe me as stubborn, always hyper-active, and always looking for new ventures, but it is my family that keeps me grounded in so many ways. My mother was my strength and a sounding board when I needed it. She always used to say to us, “Whatever age you may be, I will still be your mother and will tell you when you are wrong.” My husband is my backbone, who has always been my voice of reason - direct and truthful and always there for me after a “bad” day at work. Of course, I must also mention my sons, who have been and still are, constant pillars of support throughout my personal and professional growth.

“Working as a legal secretary felt mundane. I wanted a career where no two days were the same.”

Previously, I was working as a legal secretary, and my job felt mundane. I wanted a career where no two days were the same. I wanted the opportunity to learn something new, to meet new challenges, new faces and so I decided to enrol in an evening course at a local college to learn Spanish. In addition to English, I already spoke other languages such as Gujarati, Hindi, basic French, and basic Swahili. However, whilst there I saw a Deaf Tutor teaching British Sign Language (BSL). I became very intrigued with this new way of communication, and as they say, the rest is history!

Since embarking on a new career in sign language interpreting, I feel this profession certainly gives me the buzz I wanted. It keeps me busy, and I look forward to future challenges and opportunities to develop my skills. My goal towards further professional development is to learn more about the legal and mental health domains of interpreting, especially regarding the Indian community.

South Asian Deaf Community Initiatives

SENSE International (India) - From left to right: Uttam Kumar, Head of Programme Development; Biju Matthew, Associate Director/Public Engagement; Akhil Paul, Director and founder member

In 2002 Bharti and a group of Asian Deaf people set up a voluntary organisation called Khamoshi. The word Khamoshi means, “the state of being silent”, or “silence” in the Hindi and Urdu languages. The word was chosen to represent the organisation as communication and emotion can be expressed through silence. The aim of Khamoshi was to “develop opportunities in education, employment, legal, medical and social welfare”, for the Deaf community and to promote Asian cultural events. One of these events, Diwali, was featured on a special SeeHear programme that year for which she was involved in the creation and production.

At a Deaf school in Rajkot, India, children sit cross-legged on the ground while two adults stand in front of them
Deaf School, Rajkot India

Bharti: In 2009, on a visit to my hometown of Nairobi, I wanted to investigate the provision of interpreter training courses and how interpreting services served the Deaf community. I arranged to meet with the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC), and the Kenya Sign Language Interpreters Association (KSLIA). Two years later in 2011, I paid a visit to Rajkot, a city in the Gujarat province in India to find out for myself what the current state of Deaf and Special Education provision was for children in that area. I also had the privilege of interviewing Akhil Paul, Director and founder member of SENSE International (India) and two members of his team. We discussed their roles within the organisation, and the work they are doing in supporting and campaigning for Deaf/Deafblind children and their families. I have written about my experiences and findings in two articles for ASLI’s Newsletter, Newsli*.

Another venture I was excited about was setting up a multi-lingual interpreting agency. Tri-Ling Interpreting Services was set up after it was recognised there was a need for qualified sign interpreters that had a third language in addition to BSL and English. In order to fill that gap in the market and to serve the needs of the Asian/Black Deaf community and their families, Tri-Ling was set up to meet that need. Myself a speaker of 3 languages in addition to BSL and a trained interpreter, I was ideally placed to provide such a service.

I like to share news and information on Twitter, via posting interesting tweets about what is happening in the Deaf communities of India and Kenya.

You have achieved many things since you have been a part of the Deaf and interpreting community, on a personal as well as on a professional level. What would you say are the achievements you are most proud of?

Bharti: At 38 years of age, I began studying BSL, having absolutely no knowledge of the culture of Deaf people and their language beforehand. I studied for and achieved a full CSW qualification and a City & Guilds 7407 Teaching qualification and a Notetaking qualification. I did all of this whilst managing a young family.

Setting up the interpreting agency Tri-Ling Ltd and to have a self-published book entitled, "Sense and Visualise: The Inter-relationship Between Palmistry and Feng Shui”. This went on the shelves of the Boarders and Waterstones bookshops and was also distributed by Gardeners Books Ltd. I also had two articles published in Newsli, the ASLI magazine where I wrote about the interviews I did with Deaf and Deaf Blind Schools in India (2012 issue); and Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters and Deaf community (2010 issue).

Finally, through much blood, sweat and tears, passing my BSL levels and getting my yellow badge!

What does being a member of the Interpreters of Colour Network (IOCN) mean to you?

Bharti: I am a great believer in equality and being very naïve to the inequalities/professional jealousies and other prejudices within our profession, IOCN has opened my eyes to the unfairness that surrounds us. I feel that this network is a great way to create and offer the profession diversity at its best! Many times in the past, I came across the phrase “safe space” and never felt it, until now with the IOCN. In the IOCN there are like-minded people who have experienced the inequality of the bigotry that exists within the Deaf and interpreting community. IOCN is providing a valuable service, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to match the cultural needs of our end users!

Most importantly, my presence and membership of IOCN means I am representing my Indian community and hopefully this will encourage others from the same background to become sign language interpreters.


*To read about Bharti’s visit to India and Kenya see Newsli, Issue 79, January 2012 and Newsli, Issue 72, April 2010 a newsletter of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI).


Interview by Grace Peddie

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