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Discriminatory medical admission guidelines regarding disabled aspirants crush this Ranchi doctor's dream

Yet another doctor with a disability finds herself up against a wall thanks to the Medical Council of India (MCI)'s discriminatory guidelines.

Last week we brought you the story of Dr Mohammed Shaloo, who has legally challenged the MCI guideline barring MBBS doctors with a disability of over 80% from doing further specialization.

Today, we bring you the story of yet another doctor, Anjani Bala from Ranchi. Like Dr Shaloo, Dr Bala has a locomotor disability and needs support to walk long distances. That did not come in the way of completing an MBBS successfully from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS) in Patna. She has also cleared the NEET entrance exam for post graduate admissions.

By all measures, this makes her eligible to pursue an MD in dermatology or radiology as planned. Yet, when she went to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi for a routine disability assessment, she was declared ineligible under the MCI's new guidelines.

The question I am asking is that when I was found eligible for MBBS and have completed it successfully, why not MD? At Safdarjung Hospital, I did everything they asked for, including sitting on the floor and crossing my legs. They also checked the power of my legs and asked me to walk without support for some distance. They took an x-ray of my legs as well. - Dr Anjani Bala, MBBS doctor

Dr Bala, who delivered a baby two weeks ago, was wearing a belt around her abdomen as recommended by her gynaecologist. But the doctor evaluating her at Safdarjung Hospital refused to believe her. "She told me that she had undergone a caesarean as well and was never told to wear it and declared me ineligible", says Dr Bala.

Present during the evaluation was Dr Bala's husband, Rajan Kumar Mehta, who is also a doctor. "I found their attitude very unhelpful and discriminatory", he says. "It was as if they had made up their mind to reject her. They said things like 'she is too disabled and cannot do many things'. They even asked us irrelevant questions like why we had come to Delhi for the evaluation instead of going to Kolkata, which is frankly none of their concern".

Dr Bala says she is disappointed and demoralized by the whole experience. "I don't know what to do now. People tell you things like work hard and overcome the disability and then place barriers in your way. Why admit me into MBBS and then block me later, especially when I have done everything asked for in my MBBS program?"

Her senior at IGIMS and currently a practising doctor at Ranchi's Kanke General Hospital, Dr Swati Shree, expressed outrage. "Anjani used to go on the rounds at IGIMS Hospital like everyone else, on all the four floors. She would assist in deliveries, go to every ward for check ups and never said no to any task. To deny her the opportunity to study further is very unfair".

Valid questions that are being asked time and again by the medical fraternity across India. Yet, the MCI chooses to maintain this biased, regressive and outdated stance.

"While the MCI was framing guidelines to doubt the competence of disabled persons, the same time General Medical Council of UK came up with "Welcomed and Valued" Guidelines for candidates with disabilities", points out Dr Satendra Singh, the disability rights crusader who has campaigned for the removal of these discriminatory guidelines.

"The Association of American Medical Colleges also framed an Access & Inclusion report to embrace disability as diversity. Based on our suggestions, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare added the "functional competence" clause for those with over 80% disability. However, the removal of this one key phrase by MCI BoG is shattering dreams of so many aspirants", adds Dr Singh.

Dr Bala's happy and hopeful expression should fill decision makers with a deep sense of shame.

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