Despite the Supreme Court constituting a committee of experts in March this year to identify the streams in which medical students suffering from colour blindness could be allowed to pursue their course, without their physical disability proving to be a handicap, another case of such discrimination has come to light with the Government Medical College Hospital at Akola in Maharashtra now seeking to terminate the services of its assistant professor in the department of microbiology, Dr. Abhishek S. Goenka, on grounds of colour blindness.
What’s worse is that Goenka had worked his way up the medical profession despite suffering from muscular dystrophy due to which he had been certified as having 47% disability. But rather than supporting his cause and crediting him for the fight he put up against all odds and disability to complete his doctor of medicine in microbiology, the hospital authorities have decided to take away his service on account of his being detected with partial visual impairment.
This approach of the hospital is contrary to the sentiment expressed by the apex court when the bench, comprising Justices Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar, had also termed the Medical Council of India’s stand to not permit such students from pursuing the medical courses as “regressive”.
Taking a strong stand against the exclusion of colour blind students from medical study, the judges had said: “The total exclusion for admission to medical courses without any stipulation in which they really can practise and render assistance would tantamount to regressive thinking.”
They had added that colour blind students were allowed to study several medical courses in many other countries, and therefore the rules or guidelines to be followed in the matter in India also needed to be reviewed.
This instance of discrimination has come less than two months after the Medical Council of India had decided to end the discrimination following recommendation from the Supreme Court-appointed committee of doctors to lift the bar on people with colour vision deficiency (CVD).
Goenka told The Wire that despite being handicapped he had managed to complete his Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and had been working with the medical college for the last three years. But now, he said, “suddenly the system wants to terminate me on the grounds of color blindness…”
Stating that there was widespread corruption in the grant of fitness certificates to the partial colour blind by the medical board, Goenka said “after the SC judgement this corruption must stop”.
Observing that CVDs are not a stigma, Goenka said: “I am proud to have it without it affecting any of my abilities.”
He questioned why was he being targeted now. “When I have once cleared my medical board for the same post, why again and again am I being harassed. When I am certified by my head for good work, why and who is the board to make (declare) me unfit… ?” asked Incidentally, a look at Goenka’s educational and medical record reveals that he was in 2015 certified as suffering from muscular dystrophy with 47% disability by three doctors of Government Medical College Hospital, Akola in Maharashtra.
The report had also stated that in the case of Goenka, 27 years old then, the “condition is permanent, non-progressive, not likely to improve”. Stating that reassessment of disability was not necessary, it had also noted the parts of his body which were impacted by the disorder.
But despite his physical disabilities, Goenka not only studied hard to acquire his degrees, according to his disability rights activist Dr. Satendra Singh, who has also been raising the issue of protecting the rights of those suffering from colour blindness “Goenka also personally who fought the system for lengthy period to get a faculty post to teach microbiology.”
He said Goenka’s medical examination at the time of his joining had disclosed his undiagnosed colour blindness which the establishment was now using as a tool to terminate him. “This is an infringement of his fundamental right of employment. He is the sole earner in his family as his father too has muscular dystrophy. His dean (also the head of the microbiology department) had already given a certificate of his good working and so how can such action against him be justified now?”
Clearly, Goenka, who has fought hard against his disability and the system, now has another battle on his hands.