It was only last week that the country celebrated the phenomenal achievement of differently abled candidate Ira Singhal, the topper in the Civil Services exams.
Earlier, it was Beno Zephine, the visually challenged candidate who was posted in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). It was even more heartening to learn both talk of their commitment towards making society more inclusive. Here, in Chennai, 20 years ago, S. Gayathri had an equally promising opportunity, only it never came through. A qualified Chartered Accountant, she is now running a consulting service.
In 1995, Chennai resident Gayathri, now 44, was asked to recite the Gayathri Mantra during an interview at the Union Public Service Commission in New Delhi. She recited the prayer with the permission of the chair, and a few days later, she was on the list of successful candidates, securing top rank in Tamil Nadu, making her eligible for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).
“I appeared for the Civil Services examination in 1994 and secured the 28th rank, making me eligible for IAS and IFS. However, before posting orders were issued, a letter was issued declaring me unfit for government service, attributing it to an eye condition called ‘degenerative myopia.’ Guru Nanak Eye Centre, New Delhi, was the hospital that conducted the eye test based on which the disqualification was took effect,” says Ms. Gayathri.
“Ophthalmologists in New Delhi and Chennai were of the opinion that my condition would not come in the way of discharging my duty. They advised me to undergo a corrective surgery that would substantially reduce my myopia. I had the surgery and appealed to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to constitute a second Medical Board to examine me. But the appeal Medical Board at the Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, declared me unfit,” says Ms. Gayathri.
Not satisfied with this, she went to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to get herself examined, and was issued a certificate clearing her. “With this, I went to the DoPT, but was told that any further appeal would have to be directed to the Ministry of DoPT.”
“I then approached Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The Chief Minister’s office issued a letter to the Union Health Minntion. The third medical team was constituted by the DoPT in May 1996, at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. This too declared me unfit for any government service,” she says. Utterly disappointed, Ms. Gayathri then proposed that the government should assume her eyes were thoroughly unfit, and consider a ‘blind’ candidate for appointment. However, the government said there was no precedent of a ‘blind’ candidate having qualified, and the matter was treated as closed.
“I was a victim of indifference of the bureaucracy and was deprived of my rightful position in the government. I was considered unfit for any government service and not offered any posting,” says Gayathri.
Being woman in a country that was yet to change, she had to think how to balance tradition and modern schools of thought. Ms. Gayathri, still rooted to tradition and culture, displayed a sensible willingness to change.