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Why Are NEET Candidates With Disabilities Being Harassed By Repeated Medical Tests?

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Divyang Garg (name changed) cleared the NEET despite fighting the odds with his disability. He not only has a permanent disability certificate but also a Unique Disability Identity Card (UDID) – both from SMS Hospital, Jaipur. When he approached the counselling centre in Jaipur, he was asked to appear before the medical board in Delhi to get assessed. The same happened with twins with thalassemia from Haryana, a candidate living with dyslexia from Amritsar and another one with a locomotor disability from Muzaffarnagar. All these candidates were forced to travel to Safdarjung Hospital for reassessment despite having permanent disability certificates.

The information bulletin for the AIPMT/NEET admission to MBBS/BDS states that reservation of seats under Physically Handicapped (PH) Category has been increased from 3% to 5% in All India Quota/Central Universities and includes the 21 Benchmark Disabilities as envisaged under the regulations of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.

However, despite a progressive legislation, the Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) of the Ministry of Health has created hurdles for successful NEET candidates with disabilities. The MCC Guideline mandates that qualified candidates with disabilities having any of the 21 Benchmark Disabilities as per the RPWD Act, 2016 should get themselves examined and certified at one of the undermentioned Disability Assessment Boards, constituted only at the four metro-cities: (i) Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi (ii) All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mumbai (iii) IPGMER, Kolkata (iv) Madras Medical College, Chennai.

This is despite a candidate having a permanent disability certificate or UDID. If this was not enough, the FAQ 26 available on MCC website also stress that PH candidates are required to carry treatment papers related to their disability, including the investigation reports at the time of reporting.

Dr Sonali, who recently finished her MD in Pathology says, “I also have the same certificate which I got from Safadarjung at the time of my admission. I came from Madhya Pradesh for this certificate only despite having a valid permanent certificate.”

Dr Roshan Jahan, who lost both legs in a train accident, belongs to a conservative Muslim family which fought legal battles to get him MBBS and MD admission. She too faced the same problem, “I had the AIIPMR Mumbai certificate already but every year, before filling the form for the new sessions, you have to get a new certificate from these four centres. And if one asks, why these four centres only, nobody has an answer.”

I believe this is a direct violation of the new law. Section 19 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017, mandates that a certificate issued under Rule 18 is to be generally valid for all purposes and makes a person entitled to apply for all government concessions and benefits. Also, as per Section 20 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the certificate of disability issued even under the repealed Act is valid.

The biggest mistake here is the rejection of the UDID. The Ministry of Social Justice came up with the ambitious UDID card to make it the single document of identification and verification for persons with disability for availing various benefits. The UDID Card is valid at all levels of the hierarchy of implementation – from village to national level. Rajasthan has already issued 2,52,280 UDID, including that of Divyang Garg.

It is wrong to force only candidates with disability to appear before these centres as the same criterion is not imposed on non-disabled candidates from SC/ST/OBC categories to verify their caste certificate at these four centres.

According to the ‘candid observations’ made by Dr Radhika Tandon, ophthalmic expert from AIIMS, “Some checks and measures to safeguard against the problem of malingering or willful attempt on part of person to gain higher percentage or lower percentage to gain reservation or become eligible as applicable, need to be evolved and put in place,” as mentioned on the MCC website.

This ignorance comes from the lack of people with disabilities in such committees. This is exactly the reason why both the MCC and the Medical Council of India (MCI) have no understanding of the concepts of universal design or reasonable accommodation. The result is that despite mandatory under new Disability Act, low vision, specific learning disability, and autism are considered ‘not eligible’ for reservation in MBBS by MCI and MCC.

This is the reason why year after year, cases are filed by students with disabilities against MCI and MCC. The latest one is at Mumbai where a candidate with an intellectual disability who cleared NEET, was turned down by the authorised Center AIIPMR Mumbai on the grounds that they can only examine physical disabilities. Mumbai High Court has now intervened in this matter.

Created by Dr Satendra Singh

Is it correct for Counselling Committee to reject Aadhar-based Unique Disability ID?
Image for representation only. Source: Trinity Care Foundation | CSR Initiatives in India on Trend Hype / CC BY-NC-ND
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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