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The story of Manthan: Cerebral palsy; supportive family, activists and lawyers; and a court Order to train as a doctor

This is the story of the steely resolve of Manthan, affected by cerebral palsy, his mother, determined to make him a doctor,  and their journey against long odds to secure an admission into a medical college through the legal system.

SOME victories are greater than others. They make you content.

The case of Manthan Sawai is one such instance that brought me irresistible joy. Although I refrain from publicising cases or their outcomes, the case of Manthan Sawai needs highlighting.

Manthan Sawai was born to a vegetable vendor in a small mining town in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Shortly after birth, Manthan was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Due to the irreversibility of the condition, Manthan, his parents’ first-born, was seen as a liability.

Manthan was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Due to the irreversibility of the condition, Manthan, his parents’ first-born, was seen as a liability.

Relatives bemoaned the fate of his parents, calling it a curse of the gods and a sin of their past lives. His homemaker mother was told to keep the child at home.

As for Manthan, the relatives called him a ‘burden worth getting rid of’. With a hand-to-mouth existence and nothing to fall back on, the future seemed bleak for the family.

But Manthan’s parents loved their child. Like most parents, they resolved to give him the best possible life that they could provide. They would not let his serious disability affect their affection or the chances he got in life.

His mother, in particular, was steely in her resolve. She wanted to educate Manthan, even with their limited resources.

Often, people laughed at Manthan’s mother for wishing to put him in school. She, however, fought back with the conviction and determination of a warrior. People mocking her declaration to make her son a doctor only served to strengthen her resolve.

Challenging one and all, this lady made it the mission of her life to educate her son. She started taking him to school herself, and spent most of her day with him. Her conviction rubbed on to the boy’s father. Grandparents joined in too.

Also read: Madras High Court’s recent decision on disability rights marks a paradigm shift, To provide a scribe for competitive exams is not largesse, says SC; rebukes UPSC; holds Benchmark disability not a precondition to obtaining a scribe

The mission began. Amidst ‘able’ students, Manthan had to adjust. Suggestions to put him in a special school were also discarded.

On his part, despite his affliction, Manthan did not let his mother down. Competing with the ‘ables’, he turned out to be a strong contender for the first rank in his class.

Denied the assistance of a scribe, he wrote all his papers. While the children of his relatives struggled to get passing marks, he passed every class with distinction.

Manthan completed his 12th standard from the science stream with 71 percent marks. He appeared for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), and scored 137 marks there, which was good enough to earn him admission in a medical college.

When it looked like Manthan had conquered it all, and getting into a medical college was a mere formality away, the ‘disability certification board’ of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Nagpur, disqualified him from pursuing a degree in medicine. 

The board quantified his disability at 73 percent.

Not knowing what to do and where to go, Manthan’s family approached certain politicians. The politicians tried convincing the board, but they were made to believe that any action on the part of the board that would allow Manthan to pursue a degree in medicine would be illegal.

The permissible extent of disability ranges from 40–80 percent, and therefore the conclusion drawn was self-contradictory, for Manthan’s disability was assessed at 73 percent.

The family made a last-ditch effort to make the board change its decision. Pleading with folded hands, they showed the board Manthan’s writings, his poems, his earlier certifications, etc., but all in vain. Everyone gave up, except Manthan and his mother.

Someone suggested that going to high court could be helpful, but after considering the costs of litigation, they expressed their inability to do so. 

They were also advised to get in touch with labour rights activists who may know of lawyers who would fight for free. One such activist put them in touch with me.

By the time they approached me, two rounds of the admission process were already over. It was a race against time.

Our research showed that the permissible extent of disability ranges from 40–80 percent, and therefore the conclusion drawn was self-contradictory, for Manthan’s disability was assessed at 73 percent.

We challenged the medical board certificate, and the court took up the matter on an urgent basis.

In the very first hearing itself, the court was satisfied that the disability certificate was erroneous, however merely setting it aside was not going to help. The registration process had concluded and for Mathan to get enrolled, court orders would be necessary.

The court issued notices to the concerned bodies situated in Delhi. My attempts to serve them on their official email IDs did not work.

Under such circumstances, the parties themselves go and serve notices, but for Manthan or his family, an overnight journey to Delhi, finding the right office, and obtaining an acknowledgement, was impossible.

My friends working for human rights came to the rescue. Advocates Fidel Sabastian, Shiyas, Ujjaini, Philip C. Philip and Rajiv Raturi urgently came to the rescue, printed the records, prepared service letters, and landed at the office, demanding an acknowledgment for Manthan.

While there was reluctance to accept such notice, a fear of filing for contempt was duly put in the office bearers hearts and the notices were accepted.

With the service letter in hand, we were back in court, praying that his candidature be considered as an interim measure subject, of course, to the final outcome of the case.

The court looked through the guidelines, the law and the judgment of Madhya Pradesh High Court in the case of Soyab Khan versus Union of India (2022), and passed a detailed interim Order towards the acceptance of his candidature.

Manthan had come to attend this hearing. With his wheel-fixed crutches, he walked into the courtroom all by himself. While the matter was being heard, all heads turned towards Manthan.

The judgment may not be a landmark one, from a strictly legal perspective as it merely underscores the law, but it is a victory for many.

On his way out of the court, the uneven floor of the corridor imbalanced his crutch, leading to a fall. Lawyers who saw that, ran, and helped him up.

Some of them cursed the administration for not ensuring leveled flooring, while a few others stared at me, as if asking, “What is the point you are trying to make here?”

Also read: Supreme Court sets aside high court order giving relief to persons with locomotor disability

Though the Order was in our favour, the board was not represented at the hearing. A special action was required to allow Manthan to register on the portal, which was already closed.

Another desperate round of visits to the Delhi office, emails, and repeated phone calls followed. It appeared as if, despite the Orders, he may not get to put up his candidature, for the Order itself had not been communicated to the relevant authorities.

While we were processing a contempt petition, I received a call from Manthan, joyfully telling me that the portal had accepted his nomination, and he was going to be allowed to participate in the next round of admissions.

When the results were declared, Manthan was allotted an MBBS seat in a government college in Dhule, Maharashtra, a place more than 600 kilometers from his residence. 

While it looked too inconvenient, Manthan’s mother stepped in, saying she will go “with him to Everest, if need be”. 

With temporary admission in the college secured, the entire family shifted with Manthan to Dhule. He started attending classes while the petition was pending.

A few days ago, the matter finally came up before the board. In its affidavits, the board justifies its conclusion by asserting that Manthan lacked the strength in his hands that is necessary to become a doctor.

While I had prepared myself to meet with any legal and factual arguments, the counsel representing the other side showed magnanimity. He made it obvious to the court that he does not wish to oppose the petition simply because he is tasked with doing so.

It is a victory of a struggling mother whose belief, faith and resolve made her dream come true.

With assistance from both of us, the court looked at the factual and legal aspects, and allowed the petition, clearing the deck for Manthan to pursue medical education.

The judgment may not be a landmark one from a strictly legal perspective, as it merely underscores the law. Nevertheless, it is a victory for many.

It is a victory for a struggling mother whose belief, faith and resolve made her dream come true.

It is a victory for the labour rights activist, who proved useful to a working-class family in its hour of need.

It is a victory for the lawyers who set aside their routine work and rushed to the office of the ‘disability board’ to serve notice on behalf of someone they had never met. Needless to say, all this was done at their own expense.

I know for a fact that there are many ‘Manthans’ out there. With the breakdown of legal aid organisations, the once robust network that  used to reach out to the needy has become dysfunctional. 

Under such circumstances, dissemination of information about someone in need may be the proverbial lifeline to them.

A big congratulations to Manthan and his mother, Ashwini.