Lack of clarity on revised admission norms leaves disabled students & parents groping in the dark
Since the NEET (Undergraduate) 2019 information booklet was released earlier this month, Dr Satendra Singh has been flooded with calls and emails from anxious parents and students with different types of disabilities.
Dr Singh, Founder, Doctors with Disabilities: Agents of Change, has spearheaded the campaign against the various guidelines of the Medical Council of India (MCI) that discriminate against candidates with disabilities when it comes to medical entrance exams.
Many students have successfully appealed against these guidelines in high courts as well as the Supreme Court (SC), and they have been deemed as violative of the RPWD Act 2016.
Yet, the 2019 NEET booklet does not mention the updated information and this has led to utter confusion and anger. "I am angry with the government," says Dr Singh. "it's the job of the MCI, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the National Testing Authority to put these things, including SC judgements, in black and white. Many of the prospective candidates might not be aware of the injustice and there will be the same chaos after results are declared."
Among those is worried is Mumbai-based parent with a 17-year-old son, who prefers not to be identified. Her son has a disability which falls under the 21 categories covered by RPWD Act 2016. The SC had last year held that students with this disability are eligible for admission into medical courses.
The Act says all disabled students must be included. Yet for NEET they are excluding people with certain disabilities even though entrance exams for law and engineering do not. The MCI, instead of following the government mandate of including all, is excluding people. They have gone ahead and put forth the old guidelines and we are uncertain as to whether we should apply in the Physically Handicapped category. - Parent of disabled child
The last date for submitting admission forms is 30 November and disability rights activists have approached the Ministry for clarity on the matter. "This is easily avoidable," points out Dr Singh, "and this shows the apathy of the government towards the disability sector. Two weeks have passed and there is still no action even though they have been apprised and the story has been reported in many media outlets."
He says parents are uncertain is their children even qualify to appear for the medical entrance exam under NEET. This is even though their children have made the grade as per recent court judgements, but there is no clarity on the matter.
Rishabh Pal, a hearing impaired student, is among those who is preparing for the NEET. He cleared the exam in 2018 but was denied a seat under the disability quota by the MCI which only grants it to students with less than 40% disability. Pal, who is from Muzaffarnagar, successfully challenged this in court but lost out as the seats were given out.
"I was hoping to join in 2019 but the guidelines are not very clear and I am confused," says Pal. When the SC has held that even a 100% disabled candidate is eligible, why does the new notification not reflect that? I will go ahead and fill the form as I have fought a case and I am aware but there are so many students who are not."
Given these circumstances, activists say that it is unfair to begin the process of online application for NEET 2019.
"Does the Ministry want to exclude disabled children?," asks the anonymous Mumbai parent. "If this is allowed, tomorrow others like engineering or law may do the same. Where does that leave these children?"