‘I was in pain’: Kerala woman shares traumatic ordeal at disabled-unfriendly exam centre

Dr Fathima Asla, a 28-year-old woman with brittle bone disease (Osteogenesis imperfecta), was forced up to the third floor and made to sit for extra time in excruciating pain.
Fathima Asla
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Writing the entrance exam for a post-graduation course in homeopathy turned out to be a traumatic experience for Dr Fathima Asla, a 28-year-old woman with brittle bone disease (Osteogenesis imperfecta) in Kozhikode of Kerala. Not only was the examination centre in Kuttikkattoor unfriendly for persons with disability, but she was also forced into situations where she had to endure a lot of physical pain.

On reaching her examination centre on July 6, Fathima found that the seat allotted to her was in a hall on the third floor. With her condition – of bones fracturing easily on the slightest provocation – Fathima could not climb the stairs, and to her dismay, there was no wheelchair facility in the building. She clung to her partner who had to pick her up and take her through the three flights of stairs to the hall's entrance. However, Fathima’s struggle did not end there.

“From the hall entrance, there were a few more steps to reach my seat, and they would not allow my husband beyond the entrance. My only option was to depend on the two women invigilators who offered to pick me up and take me to the floor from where I could use a walker.  I allowed for this without any other choice but found it extremely uncomfortable. I have metal plates on my back, and if someone who is not familiar with my condition handles me, it can be very painful,” she told TNM.

Two hours later, by 11 am – the cut-off exam time allowed for persons without disability – Fathima finished writing. As a person with disability, she could claim another 40 minutes, but by then, she was in too much pain to sit there any longer, she said. This time, she insisted on her husband picking her up, not wanting to go through the painful procedure of others trying to do that. “However, they would not allow me to leave with my husband until those extra 40 minutes were over. Two other students with disabilities were also in the hall, taking the exam. But this did not mean the extra time was mandatory. It was up to me to use it or not. But they would not listen to my protests; they made me wait, and I somehow put up with the pain. Even after the 40 minutes were over and the two other students left, they still took a few more minutes, saying they needed to get permission to allow my husband in,” Fathima recalled.

After all this, she realised there was another entrance to the hall, through which she could have entered with less difficulty, but the centre had again cited rules to not open it. “They even asked me why I got a seat in this centre, when it was already reported as a disabled-unfriendly one. When I asked how they could have a license to conduct an exam like this, they asked me to complain to the National Testing Agency (NTA) that holds the exam,” she told TNM.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, says that buildings, campuses, and various facilities should be made accessible to persons with disabilities. In 2018, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment issued guidelines for conducting examinations for people with benchmark disabilities, which clearly states: “As far as possible the examination for persons with disabilities should be held at the ground floor. The examination centres should be accessible for persons with disabilities.”

Fathima Asla
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On July 9, Fathima put out a video narrating her experience, and she found others sharing similar stories. Parvathy (Sreekutty Vijayan), another woman with a disability, wrote that she was similarly taken to her exam center last December for UGC-NET when the centre disallowed her parents to bring her in. She too found it extremely uncomfortable. "How can they conduct such a big exam with such negligence?" Parvathy asked.

Fathima has written to the NTA and the national and state Disability Commissioners. She is also trying to meet the Collector to raise the case, because, she said, “I don't wish other students like me to go through such a harrowing experience. What if something had happened to me? What if when they carried me, my bones broke? I’d be bedridden for months afterward. I am the one who’d go through all that pain, not them.”

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