From being made to travel across India for repeat disability certifications to bizarre eligibility tests, candidates who have passed the medical entrance exams are being harassed in many ways. That’s the focus on #StoryOfTheWeek.
Passing the highly competitive National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) is no small achievement. But that is not good enough for the Medical Council of India (MCI) and Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) it seems when it comes to candidates with disabilities.
Despite these candidates possessing permanent disability certificates, they are being made to travel to designated hospitals for repeat disability certification.
Twelve hospitals have been identified across India and these candidates are taking needless risk by traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.
The central government has declared people with disabilities as among the populations most vulnerable to the infection.
Repeat disability certification
“All of them already have UDID or permanent disability certificates”, points out disability rights advocate Dr Satendra Singh, who is Co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities, a pan India body of medical professionals with disabilities. “Now, they are forced to travel from state to state”. One doctor from Jammu has become Covid positive while doing do. “She might very well lose her chance to become a doctor”, says Dr Singh. “None of the non-disabled candidates have to face this ignominy”.
The harassment does not end here. There are reports of successful candidates being put through bizarre and insensitive fitness tests during the certification process. The SMS Medical College in Jaipur, among the designated centres, has been slammed for rejecting a candidate with locomotor disability as he was unable to do sit ups!
Newz Hook spoke to the student who wishes to remain unidentified. The student has a 60% disability and is not a wheelchair user.
The specialist at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at SMS hospital gave me a certificate declaring me 60% disabled. But he declared me non-eligible even though the rules allow candidates with 40-80% disability to study MBBS. He asked me to sit on the floor and then stand up which I am not able to do. I can walk on my own but need help to stand from a very low height. – Successful NEET candidate
The experience was so traumatising that he almost gave up on his plans to pursue an MBBS. “Fortunately, I spoke to Dr Singh and he told me to go to the centre in Chandigarh and I was able to get the certification. At SMS Hospital many disabled candidates like me were declared ineligible for no good reason”.
Inhuman fitness tests
“These ‘competent’ physiatrists have ended the careers of many successful NEET candidates with disabilities”, says Dr Singh. “A few students with disabilities had the guts to challenge these decisions and got their rightful due but how many in India can afford court cases?”
Last year Nikki Kumar Pandey, a successful NEEET candidate from Bihar was forced to mov Patna High Court after she was rejected as she has an upper limb disability. Nikki does not have a hand below the left elbow. “I have a certificate that I have a 60% disability but was declared ineligible. The matter has not come up in court and things have got further delayed due to Covid. My future looks so uncertain now”.
The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP), representing academic physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians in the United States has slammed the guidelines being implemented in India. In a letter, AAP has said
“The extent of disability an individual caused by a particular condition depends not only on the severity of that condition, but on the individual’s residual strengths and the supports available in the physical and social environment. Therefore, we would encourage you to avoid eligibility criteria that relate simply to medical diagnosis and rely, instead, on assessments of the student’s capacities when given reasonable accommodations”.
Year after year candidates with disabilities experience such harassment across India. This is because disabled people are absent from the MCI and MCC that make the decisions. Therefore, despite a progressive law like the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, little has changed on the ground.