"I wanted to do research to find a cure for my disease. But this vision has been snatched away from me."

Even with a PhD from IIT Madras this visually impaired scientist cant get the job he deserves
news Human Rights Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 09:15

For the last two years, 30-year-old Akash Gupta has been travelling across the country with his aged mother, looking for a suitable job. With a Doctorate in Chemistry, and that with an IIT Madras tag, it would seem an easy task for this bright man to find employment and support his family. 

But, soon after he received his PhD, Akash realised that most employers were blind to the degree that adorned his name. Instead, all that they saw was his inability to see. 

Born to a financially backward family in Madhya Pradesh, Akash was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa while he was still in high school. Retinitis pigmentosa is a condition that causes severe vision impairment due to the progressive degeneration of cells in the retina.

There is currently no cure for it, and Akash battled on with his deteriorating vision to complete his Master’s degree in Chemistry. Having always been passionate about the subject, he decided to pursue a doctorate and secured a seat at IIT-Madras in 2010. 

"It was the first time I was leaving home and wanted to do this despite my poor vision.  I thought a sound education will help me overcome the disadvantages this disease has given me and would secure my future," says Akash. "But now, despite slogging for five years to get a doctorate, I remain unable to help my family, which is struggling financially," he says, his voice breaking. 

When Akash arrived in Chennai, he was certified as '75% disabled'. But, with the vision he possessed, he persevered through the towering workload his course entailed. He successfully completed his thesis, and his research papers were published in international journals. His work, he says, was even recognised among the Top 25 Hottest Articles in the field of Chemical Engineering in 2015 by Science Direct.

Encouraged by these achievements, he applied for posts in institutes and organisations such as IIT Roorkee, IIT Kanpur, MNIT, NIT Karnataka, IISER Bhopal, IISER Kolkata and ONGC. But what he faced was outright rejection due to his vision impairment, delays in declaration of results after an interview or worse, the lack of an offer letter after selection. 

"For two years, I applied everywhere for a job. I want to be a Professor or a Research Assistant but nobody is willing to hire me. Most of the time, they are ready to even keep a seat vacant instead of taking me," he says.

"I have completed this PhD by myself. In fact, my eyesight even deteriorated because of the constant exposure to chemicals and computer screens. But I kept at it, hoping for a better life. The Government, these institutes and even my education has failed me," he says dejectedly. 

Activists, who spoke to The News Minute about Akash's plight, say that he has been a victim of blatant discrimination. The institutions' inability to identify posts for disabled persons, they say, goes against a Supreme Court order that dictates 3% reservation for disabled persons in all posts and services under the Government of India.  

" The Centre must intervene to help this talented man. It is no easy task to complete a PhD in Chemistry and that shows the level of technical knowledge he possesses," says TMN Deepak, President of the disability rights group, December 3 Movement.

"A panel should be formed by the Government and a suitable job must be immediately identified, according to his knowledge and skill. If they believe that his visual impairment will stop him from being a good Professor or Research Assistant, then the employers are the one with the real disability to see the truth," he adds. 

Akash is currently in Chennai and has applied for the post of a technical superintendent (who supervises processes in laboratories) in an educational institute. "I know I am over qualified for the post. But what can I do? My father is ill and can no longer work. I can't ask my mother to accompany me everywhere. I am desperate and need a source of income," he laments.

The once ambitious student has even discarded his dream of doing research. "I wanted to become a scientist so that I can find a cure for the disease I suffer from. I wanted to help everyone who faces this problem. But now, this vision too has been snatched away from me," he says in utter resignation.

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