The absence of information relating to disabled people in the new MBBS syllabus strengthens dangerous stereotypes about them
People with disabilities are among the most marginalised sections of society in the world. In India, as per the 2011 Census, the disabled population is around 26.8 million. However, this number could actually be a small fraction of the actual number living with disabilities in India, with World Bank data suggesting the number is between 40 and 80 million. With society comprising of such a large proportion of disabled people, it would make sense for textbooks and knowledge sources to contain information about them and ways to engage that do not ostracise them. However, the new syllabus of MBBS courses in the country due to come out in August of this year does not carry much on The Rights of Persons with Disability Act. Two letters, one written by the Delhi chief commissioner for persons with disabilities and the other by the national chief commissioner, addressed to the Union health ministry and the Medical Council of India (MCI), respectively, note the absence of specific requirements of the Act from the new syllabus and the absence of a “human rights” perspective and approach to disability.
The main problem lies in the fact that the failure to include a rights-based perspective relating to people with disabilities means that time and again they are met with apathy and indifference, not care and attention. In an effort to address this, the Parliament passed The Rights of Persons with Disability Act in 2016. A significant effort towards mainstreaming disabled people was incorporated in Section 39 of the Act, which mandates that the curriculum in universities, colleges and schools should include information on the rights of people with disabilities and also requires that “orientation and sensitisation at the school, college, university and professional training level on the human condition of disability” be carried out. Not only was this missing from the syllabus, but a central tenet of the Act, the incorporation of the word “dignity” in all matters pertaining to disabled people, was also absent from the updated syllabus and “disabled” was mentioned only once.