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Protesting The Government’s Incompetence, “Corona Warriors” Take The Streets

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With the government delaying the NEET-PG counselling, doctors have taken the streets and are protesting what they deem the government’s incompetence.

In India, Postgraduate Medical Admissions are conducted through a common, nationwide entrance exam, “NEET-PG”. In a normal academic year, this exam happens in January, and the Counselling Process for Admissions occur in the months of March and April.

About 1.75 to 2 lakh MBBS Doctors write this exam each year for around 40,000 Postgraduate Seats (about 15,000 of them in clinical branches, and the rest in either lab sciences or auxiliary branches).

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The NEET exam was postponed time and again in 2021.

The exam conducting body, NBEMS (National Board of Examinations in Medical Sciences), first issued a circular for the 2021 NEET Exam, announcing the date to be 10 January, 2021.

But to account for the academic delay caused due to the first COVID wave, and also due to the fact that the apex medical body was changed from Medical Council of India (MCI) to National Medical Commission (NMC), the exam was initially postponed to 18 April, 2021.

When the second COVID wave hit the country in mid-April, in order to depute MBBS Doctors for COVID duties to account for the workforce shortage, the Government took a decision to postpone the NEET-PG exam yet again, this time after having issued the hall tickets, with only 3 days left for the exam.

Subsequently, the Prime Minister’s Office unilaterally declared that NEET-PG would be postponed until “after August 31st”. Eventually, the NEET-PG exam was conducted on 11 September, 2021, with the results coming by the end of the month.

How Does The Counselling Scheme For Admissions Work?

During counselling, 50% of the total seats have “All-India Open Counselling” conducted by MoHFW. The remainder 50% of seats are filled by respective states by State-level Counselling.

Until 2020, the All-India Open Counselling had the following reservation scheme — 15% for Scheduled Caste Candidates, 7.5% for Scheduled Tribe Candidates, 5% Horizontal Reservation for Persons with Disabilities.

A petition was filed in Madras High Court by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), demanding application of 27% reservation for Other Backward Caste (OBC) Candidates in Postgraduate Medical Courses.

Before the final verdict could be pronounced on this case, the Union Government issued a notification announcing 27% OBC Reservation and 10% Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in Postgraduate Medical Courses and MBBS Courses.

Since now the total reservation applied exceeded the 50% limit set in the Indra Sawhney Case, and since the 103rd Constitutional Amendment which instituted EWS quota is under review by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, two groups, namely “All Docs are Equal” and “Save Merit Save Nation” filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, challenging the Government Circular.


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The PIL demands an immediate stay of the New Reservation Policy for this academic year and a subsequent review of the same for the upcoming academic years. During the hearings, the three-judge bench called into question the rationale behind setting ₹8 lakhs as the limit for EWS quota eligibility, as no socio-economic survey/study preceded the 103rd Constitutional Amendment.

The Union Government then responded with an affidavit citing the 2010 Sinho Commission Report. The Court then took the Government to task for going back to a report that was specifically not intended for reservation purposes.

Seeing that the Government has put forward a weak case, the lawyers representing the Government started demanding time for responding, initially citing “Diwali vacation” and then giving other flimsy reasons (based on commentaries of the proceedings from Bar and Bench and LiveLaw).

During the last hearing on 25 November, the Government asked time to set up a committee to relook the EWS eligibility criteria, which the Court granted. The next hearing is scheduled for 6 January, 2022. Until this matter is decided upon, the entire counselling process has been kept on hold.

Why Are Resident Doctors Protesting?

An exam that was supposed to happen in January eventually took place in September. An admission that should have ideally happened by April is yet to begin. This has taken a toll on many NEET-PG Aspirants. They are already in a precarious financial and mental situation because the entrance exam is tough, requiring years of break from career to prepare.

There is a massive 33% shortage in the public healthcare system.

The delay, caused partly due to COVID and majorly due to the incompetence of the Government in drafting laws and in their inability to take all stakeholders into confidence before implementing anything, has put many aspirants between a rock and a hard place. Quite many come from poor and middle-income families, and going for so long without admission and a stipend can break many backs.

The other tragic implication of the delay is the acute shortage of workforce in the Medical College Hospitals — Government and Private. Postgraduate Medical Doctors work as “Junior Residents” who are the first-line responders in casualties, hospital wards and operation theatres.

The consultant doctors and senior professors work to oversee the care provided, but the initial treatment is given by these “Junior Residents” and MBBS House Surgeons. In an already overloaded health system, on the best of days, with all of the Residents present, there is a shortage of hands.

Currently, since July 2021, there are only two batches of Junior Residents present, leaving a massive 33% shortage in the public healthcare system. The Government has made no attempt to expedite the counselling, to overcome this lacuna in patient care. It has continued to look the other way while these overburdened resident doctors are torn down physically, emotionally and mentally.

They have now given up, and are asking the Government for some action, some movement to fasten the legal proceedings. The Government fears that a stay/scrapping of the New Reservation Policy would affect the ruling party’s chances in the upcoming state elections and is dragging its feet on the same.

Resident Doctors Associations across the country are holding OPD Boycotts, Protest Marches, Dharnas etc., from November, demanding some action from the Government. With the impending third COVID wave, the admissions must be done immediately unless we want a catastrophe of “lack of doctors” to fight the Omicron wave.

The FORDA (Federation of Resident Doctors Associations), representing Delhi hospitals like Safdarjung Hospital, RML Hospital etc., marched to the Supreme Court to press for their demands. In order to stop them at their tracks, the Delhi Police committed excess brutalities upon the protesting doctors, asking them to vacate the premises.

Doctors were mistreated on the streets, visuals of which have shamed the nation. We showered claps and flowers upon these “Corona Warriors” not so long ago, and now our hypocrisy and insensitivity as a society, as a nation, stands exposed.

It should be an immediate priority of the Government to resolve this impasse. Patient care has been greatly affected due to this standoff. Tragic stories of unattended patients due to the strike are being heard. The Doctors too have a valid point. The aspirants, waiting for their admissions, are also in limbo.

Nobody emerges as a victor if the Government continues to dither. The need of the hour is to immediately request an urgent Court Hearing and lift the stay on counselling, on an urgent basis, at least to avoid a catastrophe in healthcare if the Omicron wave hits.

The author is an MBBS Doctor and a NEET-PG aspirant.

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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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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