A Very Important Piece of Paper

For a disabled person, a disability certificate is an Very Important Document.

A Disability Certificate is required to avail of the benefits under various schemes of the Central and State governments. These include scholarships for students with disabilities and schemes for loans for self-employment of disabled persons. Disabled persons are entitled to concessional fares for railways travel (for themselves as well as for one companion).

These concessions and schemes for their benefit are intended to make the life of a disabled person a bit easier.

However, obtaining a disability certificate is a tortuous process which certainly makes his/her life more difficult.

I had not intended to write the following, here on this blog, but I do want to narrate some interesting experiences I have had because of my disability, so here goes…

For the past few years I have been somewhat disabled because of a neurological condition -‘Multiple Sclerosis’. Mainly I have difficulty in walking, balance problems, and fatigue. Also, depending on whether it’s a good day or a bad one, there are frequently ‘fun’ symptoms such as vision problems, not being able to tell hot from cold, or wet from dry, etc.

After I was diagnosed I went to the Mumbai office of the MS society (an NGO helping MS patients), to see what information I could get on this not so common (in India) disease. The Secretary of the Society was there, and was very helpful.

She also urged me to come again after a fortnight, when they were having a disability certificate camp- in effect- co-ordinating between disabled people with MS and the officials issuing the certificates.

MS typically affects young adults, between the ages of twenty and forty years. They need this disability certificate for concessions at their places of employment. Also if the disability is severe, then some tax concessions are also available. NGOs also ask for these certificates before giving monetary assistance to needy MS patients.

Since I was not employed/ in need of a business loan, it was not really necessary for me to obtain a certificate. However, she convinced me that if I ever had need for it in the future, it would be difficult to get one on my own, so I should participate in the camp they had organised. It took many days and many rounds of government offices before an individual patient could get a disability certificate.

Accordingly, I went back to their office on the specified day. If anyone is interested in witnessing a classic example of our Indian Bureaucracy in Action, I suggest they attend a camp like this.

The time specified was eleven in the morning. Eleven o’clock came and went. The thirty-odd people with MS had all come early and were waiting patiently. The Secretary of the Society was on the telephone trying to get some action from the officials concerned. Finally she got the doctor who was to conduct the examinations, on the phone.

He was at lunch with friends, he said, and could not come.

But all the patients were here, said the agitated Secretary, and some had come from far-off suburbs of Mumbai.

Finally he agreed to send a junior doctor instead, to examine the people applying for the certificates and their documents, MRI reports, neurologist’s reports, etc.

After another hour the doctor showed up.

Now, the doctor has to certify that the applicant has at least 40% disability for him/her to be eligible for a certificate. I thought that there would not be any problem in that case, as all of us seemed (to me) to have at least that much level of disability.

At that time I did not yet need a cane, and was surprised when the lady next to me thrust one into my hand. The doctor wouldn’t believe I had MS, unless I used a cane, she told me in a low voice- The only symptoms doctors understood were mobility problems.

As I watched the doctor question each person turn by turn, I realized she was right. The doctor asked his questions in a highly sceptical tone, and looked at the applicant suspiciously as if to suggest he/she was lying. He did not seem to know much about MS, I did not know how he intended to make an informed judgement.

When my turn came he asked me some questions, then told me to walk a few steps. (Visions of a typical ‘Vadhu Pariksha’ from a hundred years ago flashed through my mind!- Let’s see if the prospective bride is able to walk straight without a limp...)

I walked across the room using the cane my new friend had so kindly given me.

I could walk quite well– the doctor observed, and wrote something on the paper in front of him. But didn’t any other problems count?– I asked silently. Some people with MS could walk well, but were disabled in other ways.

Finally he finished examining everyone. The senior doctor would prepare the certificates, he said. Everyone would get permanent certificates.

And what were permanent certificates? They were those which did not need to be renewed every five years, because the disability in MS does not change.

At that point I began to pay attention to what he was saying, a bit more carefully. Since MS is a progressive disease, I would have thought that the certificates would have to be renewed periodically, increasing the % of Disability specified.

But no. Neurologists specify in their reports that MS is a progressive disease, but the Ministry of Social Justice begs to differ.

The MS Society people had to make several rounds of the offices before the formalities could be completed, and everyone’s certificates were ready. But everyone did finally get them.

And the Secretary of the MS Society was absolutely right- I would never have been able to get a disability certificate on my own!

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23 thoughts on “A Very Important Piece of Paper”

  1. I feel so tired mentally when I think of these typical government 'servants' and how much they can hinder the progress of a nation with their own narrow thoughts! Why could the doctor not have examined the medical reports instead of conducting that ludicrous walking exercise?!I am sorry to read about your disability! I hope you have not had to face too many difficulties (other than fat-headed people like the doctor!) because of it.

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  2. That is Indian bureaucracy for you!I'm sorry to hear about your disability…A friend of mine has it and I know how hard it is for her especially since she lives alone…She teaches in a college which has been kind enough to construct a ramp for her and put an ac in her classroom…

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  3. The state of the bureaucracy & its accompanying woes are well documented. And when there are personal accounts of people that you 'know' it makes it extremely gut wrenching. I did not know about the importance of a disability certificate. I will have to look at this more closely…"I am just an ordinary individual gathering experiences on my journey through life" says your tagline ! Hmm. Well, i guess that requires change..! :)Inspiring account Manju !

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  4. Getting a certificate for an exceptional situation here, is always an exercise in "guilty until proven innocent". Because there are so many unscrupolous types abusing this. Many times aided by profesionals who came into the field through money power instead of knowledge power. And then if the boss-person at the top is low on work-ethic, thats how the subordinates will behave. I am not terribly surprised at your observation about the attending doc who came there.I once had occasion to accompany someone to the Learning Disabilities Clinic in one of Mumbai's leading Municipal Hospitals, (to check out a possible marginal disability as well as meet a special educator). The Clinic was headed by a very dedicated senior lady doctor, and you could see her work ethic being followed by her subordonate medical staff. While I was pleasantly surprised with my experience, it was horrifying to see some people there, whose children had no observable problem that was detected, (but were simply interested in getting a certificate to get special exam concessions), and these people were arguing angrily with the very dedicated staff. Makes you very cynical. But then, some folks like your MS secretary are there to advise you out of experience, which is good. Incidentally, have you read "The Brain that changes itself" by Dr Norman Doidge ? Someone I know who has MS, is trying some stuff based on it, therapywise, found it very useful…

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  5. Roshni– It was just like an assembly line.One after another- each examination over in five minutes.:)What we were thinking was that he should have at least examined the patients individually in a separate room, with perhaps the MS Society Secretary there to help him with the paperwork.The Society office consisted of just two rooms, but this would have been possible.Sraboney– Your friend is fortunate if her college helps her in this way. An AC is very useful- most people with MS find that their symptoms become worse because of heat.Kavi– Even I did not know how useful a disability certificate is for a disabled person. It is only because I am a homemaker and not working, that I do not need to use mine.My story is not very exceptional- many people struggle with many types of adversity. But thanks for your kind words.:)

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  6. Ugich Konitari– Yes, many people do abuse these concessions intended for the genuinely disabled. And it's natural for the doctors concerned to be cynical.From what I understand, the MS Society has a very good record of weeding out the cheats. The first time I went there I was asked many questions, which only a genuine patient could answer. They also took down the particulars of the neuro. I was consulting and the hospital details, etc. The Secretary told me that this was the reason that the authorities trusted them and always issued disability certificates to the patients the Society recommended.It would be nice if the examining doctors improved their 'bedside manner' though! 🙂

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  7. I am just familiar with the word 'multiple sclerosis' and have not come across anyone with this disability. The Secretary must have arranged for the camp for issuing the certificate, after consulting with the concerned doctor. We come across this type of doctors and the dedicated doctors like the one Ugich Konithari mentioned. At least the Secretary insisted you get the certificate via the camp and the lady seated next to you advised you to use the cane. Some good people are still there.As you said, "It would be nice if the examining doctors improved their 'bedside manner' though! :)".

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  8. Sorry to know about your condition…first reaction was to second Ugich comments…People are mostly insenstitive to others feelings..hope you dont get your certificate ( means you recover )

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  9. Radha has sent a comment by e-mail-A friend's mother in her 80s was made to go from office to office to acquire her husband's death certificate. She was in tears when she told me of how her husband – a retired judge in the High Court – was such an honest man – and there she was having had to ultimately bribe to get the certificate and she did it only because she could not bear to go through the ordeal of another visit. While one does understand that disability certificates can be misused, it does not necessarily mean that the genuine cases be put to so much inconvenience. Our procedures should be in place and malpractices weeded out. That is the only solution. And hats off to you for the courageus manner in which you are dealing with your disability.

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  10. Manju, sorry to be here so late. I am very happy your shared your story in this space. It is not easy for most of us to do it. Not often do we find friends of the "blog samaj" who have met each other only on line reveal aspects that are really personal – and for many good reasons. You are sure a guiding beacon to many of us in many ways. I don't know anything about MS at all, though there are a few doctors in the family. From what you have mentioned, there is evidently no allopathic cure for it. At times like these only we turn to traditional and even esoteric methods. Sometimes thy do work, even miraculously. I pray that you are blessed and a miracle happens…

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  11. Sandhya– Yes, the Secretary had arranged the camp in consultation with the concerned officials. But they take these things so lightly- it is just a job for them. And one that they do not need to do with sincerity!Sunder– Thank you for the good wishes!Radha– Such an unhappy experience for your friend's mother.:(I agree, genuine cases should not be put to so much inconvenience.Vinodji– I wanted to write about some of my experiences, and could not find a way of doing so without telling about my disability. :)There is no complete cure for MS. There are treatments which modify the disease course. It's still a comparatively new field- drugs for MS became available just in the 1980s.

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  12. I am sorry I did not know of your problem.I hope you will be OK soon,God willing.You have my best wishes.It is a very sorry state of affairs in India….could'nt care attitude.It is time to stop expecting any help from NGOs.They get involved only when TV channels cover them.It is almost a business.I will not be surprised that at the tailend of any NGO one will see a Politician.As for Babudom is concerned,they care only for themselves and for their masters..the NETA.Noone else matters in this country.

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  13. Solilo has sent this comment by e-mail- Manju, Sorry to hear this and thanks for sharing your account. Really brave and nice of you.It is so difficult to get somethings the right way in our country. Just few bad apples and entire system rots. We get frustrated. Entire system needs a overhaul. 😦

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  14. I learnt about Multiple Sclerosis when a young friend was diagnosed with it and I think your fortitude is inspirational.The callousness and lack of sensitivity and knowledge of employees at the Dept of Social Justice negates the very purpose of the dept.I have also enjoyed and agreed with the Hitler's tree post and the Mayawati-ozymandias post. We should get over our colonial hangover and Mayawati should realise the temporality of power. Such insightful posts.BTW, I am following you.

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  15. BK Chowla– Thank you.Solilo– Yes, it is frustrating. This situation is not unique for getting a disability certificate, though.Students go through similar experiences while getting domicile certificates, etc. which are required for their courses.As you say, the entire system needs to be overhauled.Sucharita– Thank you for your appreciation of my posts. I'm also following you…

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  16. I once heard a story about a fully fit guy , who got such a certificate , and used it every where possible . Funnily , nobody ever questioned him when he flashed his certi , as to what disability did he have .

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  17. Kislay– Unfortunately there are people like the man you mention, who are unscrupulous enough to act like this.We should also ask ourselves how it was possible that he was able to obtain a false certificate. It could not have been without the connivance of the certifying doctors/ government officials.

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  18. Manju I admire you more than ever for being who you are and for sharing this here with us :)The account though of the typical babudom that you gave is frustrating as hell! :(I mean they cant even get a simple thing done right?and not to talk about their callousness! that is disgusting!!this reminds me of a post I read somewhere( forgotten where…I think it was at Iya's post..another blogger) that when Indian media was crying itself hoarse about swine flu..all that she needed to do after getting off from a flight was walk through the security gate 'checked' by a security guard :/Who looked at her and certified her 'safe' to enter India.And she asked cynically in her blog ''are security guards doubling up as doctors these days?''And she is right to be cynical.This is the state of affairs in IndiaWhen will we change?or will we ever? :/(((((((((((hugs)))))))))):))

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  19. Anrosh has sent this comment by e-mail-The bed side attitude of doctors can be compiled into pages that can put print out of paper. In the US, This attitude is only more familiar and everyday. Doctors treats patients like "point of sale".

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  20. What a sad and frustrating state of affairs Manju! Very sorry to know about your condition, It was brave of you to mention it in the post. I guess there is nothing like our own experiences to convey something.

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  21. Indyeah– From what I hear, your friend's experience is fairly normal.Will we change?-that's a good question. I suppose we can change only if we have the will to change…Anrosh– It is sad to hear that this attitude is universal.Shail– Yes, it is frustrating that getting a simple certificate should be so difficult. That's the way of our bureaucratic process, I guess.

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  22. Manjuji,That was very brave of you to so what you have done. To admit and then put it in the public domain requires much courage and more importantly self acceptance.I hope this has been an cathartic experience for you.I see you have taken on this fight against a progressive disease and you also come up with some amazing posts. Let me complement you on your "Ozyman…." an exceptional post. I hope and pray that you win this personal battle. Further, keep coming with those lovely posts. GOD BLESS.

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  23. Mavin– Thank you for the appreciation for my posts. Also for your good wishes. Re: my MS- I am fortunate that I became ill at a comparatively later age, after my children were grown up. Also, it sounds worse than it actually is. I am able to go out provided I do not have to walk much (by car, etc.). We are even able to go on family vacations provided we make our plans keeping my limitations in mind.

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