Dr Nazrin Ansari is no stranger to adversity. Stricken with polio at the tender age of two, the 23-year-old resident of Pune has staggered painfully past many hurdles, beating the odds of poverty and physical disability to pass her MBBS exam and join the elite community of doctors.
Ironically, the very medical establishment that had once inspired the girl to rise above her handicap has, in the past year, emerged as her biggest detractor, not allowing her to opt for specialisation while they quibble over the ‘degree’ of her handicap.
After she passed exams that made her eligible for admission into a postgraduate (PG) course, Nazrin, who suffers from paralysis in her left leg, learnt that she would require certification about the percentage of her physical disability. She had no reason to worry - on paper, the Medical Council of India (MCI) allows all doctors with less than 70 per cent disability to pursue PG degrees, and Nazrin’s doctors had evaluated hers to be only 50 per cent.
Nazrin’s hopes were dashed when the All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AIIPMR) delivered the shocking verdict that she was 86 per cent disabled, thereby disqualifying her for a PG degree. “My experience in the city was harrowing, and put a severe financial strain on us,” said Nazrin, recalling dozens of trips she had to make to Mumbai in the span of one month.
She arrived in the city in the first week of June to undergo the examinations at the AIIPMR for her eligibility certificate. “I was called three different times to the Haji Ali centre from Pune just to undergo the examination,” she recalled.
The three trips ended in futility and despair. “Much to my chagrin, I was declared ineligible with 86 per cent disability,” said Nazrin. With not a single relative in Mumbai, Nazrin, who graduated from VJ Medical college in Pune, was forced to go back to her chawl in Pune.
“Before June this year, I had never been to Mumbai and my family members were anxious. Either of my four brothers or father would take turns in accompanying me to Mumbai, which affected work at our family’s shop in Pune,” she rued.
The limp in her stride isn’t thing that has held Nazrin back. Her father Sartaj, who runs a small 10x10 feet shop next their chawl in Pune’s Laxminagar barely earns Rs 5,000 for her family of 16. “My father studied only till Std V, while my seven others siblings studied only till Std XII. Our entire family lives in a two-bedroom chawl.” Not allowing these bleak circumstances to get the better of her, Nazrin focused on her studies and topped her class through her school and college life.
Having come so close to the realisation of her dream to become a radiologist, Nazrin was not ready to give up so easily. “After I was declared illegible for a postgraduate course, I approached officials of the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER) on June 18 during our counselling sessions. Even though I told them that I only have 50 per cent disability and that all my bodily functions are intact other than the use of my lower left leg, they said I could not apply under the physically handicapped category,” she explained.
Asking officials about the criteria used to assess physical disability for eligibility to PG medical courses, she was told it was based on their activity levels, power and range of movement in the affected limbs. The disqualification on these grounds particularly rankled Nazrin, who is completely self-sufficient.
Proving the officials utterly wrong, she single-handedly did all the legwork required to file a writ petition, appoint an advocate and even raise the funds to fight her case. With the help of her advocate Pooja Thorat, she filed a petition in the High Court on June 24.
Her persistence was rewarded two days later, when a division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice M S Sanklecha directed that Nazrin be considered eligible for a PG course in the physically handicapped category. Nazrin will now be granted admission to a PG course on the basis of her performance in the entrance examinations, like any other candidate.
Speaking to MiD DAY, advocate Pooja Thorat said, “It was clearly assessed that she was suffering only from a 50 per cent post paralysis in her lower left limb, which in no way will hamper her work, even if she had to stand for hours.”
“The methods and guidelines adopted by the MCI to determine if any physically disabled candidate is eligible or not is for extremely strenuous activity, which is not required in a doctor’s daily schedule. Why should such a brilliant candidate be deemed illegible by such an unfair method? she added. Nazrin had secured a rank of 50 in the Physically Handicapped (PH) category in the CET for postgraduate courses in Maharashtra.
Dr Pravin Shingare, director of the DMER, remained unavailable for comment.
Having won her court battle, Nazrin is now looking forward to pursuing Radiology in one of the major civic hospitals of the city.
If she doesn’t qualify for radiology, she will opt for paediatrics or medicine. “Studying in my chawl was almost impossible as my brothers’ families also live with us. To avoid the constant din of children and the TV, I would study in the college library till 11 pm every day after which I’d return home and study in the kitchen all night, as it was more peaceful,” she narrated, recalling her days as an intern, when she was preparing to crack the tough PG entrance exams.
Nazrin’s outstanding industry and determination would put her assessors to shame. Not only did she use her stipend as an intern to support her family and pitch in for her elder sister’s wedding last year, she footed the advocate’s bills on her own, having saved Rs 20,000 for her PG course expenses.
“When I first started approaching advocates, I was told that the fees would be at least Rs 10,000, which my family wouldn’t be able to afford. Thankfully, I had saved money,” she beamed.
Dr Ansari’s rank in the category for Physically Handicapped students in the state CET for postgraduate courses
Her monthly stipend while interning in VJ Medical College
How can only 50 per cent disability be made 86 per cent? Physically disabled people face problems in their work life in all fields, as no proper provisions are made for them. Till date, physically disabled employees are not given insurance in most companies, even though they work at good posts. Three per cent seats should be reserved for physically disabled people in the parliament, so they are able to put forward their demands of better transport facilities and other provisions. Even with a lower leg paralysis, the MBBS graduate can perform surgeries or attend to patients properly. I am glad she was given relief to pursue higher studies
-- Jitendra Karelia, president of the Disability Advocacy Group