scheduled tribes nervously await a gutsy local youth who left
several years ago to become a doctor and returns with his dream
fulfilled after overcoming a decade of harassment and official
indifference and paying a heavy price -- the loss of his
When C S P Anka Toppo left Ranchi
way back in 1989, little did he know that his tryst with destiny
would include blindness and victimisation at the hands of those
who kept putting up obstacles in his path.
But the tribulations only hardened
Toppo's resolve to become the first blind person in India to
procure a medical degree from the prestigious All-India Institute
of Medical Sciences.
Today, having earned an MBBS degree
after 14 years of toil, the soft-spoken Toppo feels no
rancour towards his erstwhile tormentors. "He exemplifies
what is generally referred to as the triumph of the human spirit
over adversities of the worst kind," said senior Supreme
Court advocate Sadhana Ramachandran, also a human rights activist.
Toppo's tale proves how a brush
with authority, even for a blind medical student, can result in
consistent vindictiveness designed to defeat, demoralise, and
destroy a persistent personality.
Reuben Toppo's son left Ranchi to pursue medical studies in Delhi,
life held a lot of promise. He cleared the first and second
professional exams and was poised to take the final one when
"There was some problem with
my eyes in 1993 and so I went to hospital," Toppo told rediff.com
"I was told I would have to take medicines and I did. But
after initial improvement, my vision deteriorated."
The problem was far more serious
than earlier thought. Toppo underwent as many as five operations
after two years of treatment. But it was all in vain. Slowly but
surely, the light dimmed and went out. The verdict: he was
afflicted with Eale's disease, a one-in-a-million case.
"I was told that restoration
of my eyesight was difficult," he recalled. "It was an
The young man was now confronted
with a peculiar problem. "I wanted to be a doctor, but I was
But he also knew that the
aspirations of his community -- he is now the first doctor from
among the scheduled tribes in Jharkhand -- rested on his
determination to succeed.
"I overcame my dread
slowly," Toppo said, "and gained courage to complete the
course. I heard about the reading machine used by blind people,
which converts printed books into speech, and appealed to friends
for help. In those days, use of the Internet was uncommon, but I
came to know that I could read books through a computer
The AIIMS Students Union stepped
foward to help Toppo buy a computer and a few friends informed him
about the National Association of the Blind, which imparts
training in the use of computers. "I got invaluable training
there," he said. "I got some medical books scanned and
some recorded. Then I began preparing for the exams."
But it was not so easy. When Toppo
approached the Institute for permission to take the exam, he was
told that there was a problem. The Medical Council of India
opposed his entry. No reason was assigned.
"But I was not
disheartened," Toppo continued, "because in a
similar case in Bangalore, a blind student had been granted
permission to appear for the MBBS exams with the help of an
assistant. But I couldn't understand why the MCI had not given me
help from friends like advocate Sadhana, Toppo discovered that 25
years ago, Y G Parameshwarappa, a student of Bangalore Medical
College, had become visually impaired in the fifth year of the
MBBS course. "But Parameshwarappa was allowed to give the
exam with the help of an assistant and he earned his medical
degree. Today, he is a professor in the college's department of
In October 1999, Toppo again
applied for the final exam, but was stopped midway. The
authorities argued that he would have to await the MCI's
permission. Toppo was even forced to leave the examination hall.
"I don't blame the [AIIMS]
faculty," Toppo said. "My information is that during a
meeting of the deans it was discussed that I couldn't be stopped
from taking the exams and some said I should be permitted. But the
MCI had its own thinking."
Toppo, however, had reached
the limits of his patience. He could not stand the mental torture
anymore and approached the National Human Rights Commission for
The NHRC was then headed by former
chief justice of India Jagdish Sharan Verma. Justice Verma
summoned then AIIMS director Dr P K Dave to discuss the matter.
Toppo was also called in by the
NHRC for counselling, but the AIIMS took the stand that as the MCI
was disinclined to let him take the final exam, he would have to
make do with a bachelor's degree in human biology.
"I reasoned with them [the
AIIMS] that there was a precedent in Bangalore," said
Toppo, "but they kept asking whether the precedent
occurred in the AIIMS! They were pushing me into a
heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situation. I kept quiet."
Toppo wrote a polite letter to the
AIIMS authorities requesting them to give their stand in writing,
so that he could respond to it. Nothing came from the institute.
On the contrary, it kept reminding him that he had not replied to
the counselling. Toppo told the NHRC that his only request was
that any proposal to him be made in writing.
In March 2001, the NHRC summoned
both Toppo and the AIIMS authorities to resolve the tangle. A
video was played showing the Parameshwarappa precedent in
Bangalore. Justice Verma asked why Toppo's case could not be
similarly resolved. Dr Dave replied that he would look into the
matter. But more hairsplitting followed.
Justice Verma, who became a
household name when he headed the bench that oversaw the
investigation of the sensational hawala [illegal
foreign exchange channel] scandal in the mid-1990s, then put
his foot down and insisted that the case could no more be swept
under the carpet.
The AIIMS responded that there
remained some impediments. But Justice Verma would have none of
it. If there are impediments, remove them, he told the AIIMS.
Justice Verma's successor in the
NHRC, former chief justice of India Dr Adarsh Sein Anand, told rediff.com,
"The Commission has taken the
rights of the disabled as a matter of grave concern. The focus
must shift from mere welfare to the rights of the disabled. The
AIIMS was misreading the Supreme Court judgment [pertaining
to these rights]."
Justice Verma's strong stand had
the desired effect. Toppo was informed that guidelines were being
prepared to allow him to give the final MBBS exam. "I
appeared for the exams in 2002 and passed with 60 percent
marks," Toppo said. "I completed my internship and was
awarded the degree on March 13 this year."
But some scars remain. "I
was constantly asked by the Institute authorities why I approached
the NHRC when my case could have been solved within the Institute.
But tell me, why would I have gone to the NHRC if justice had been
done? After all, it has taken me almost 14 years to become a
Toppo stayed back in the capital
briefly to thank benefactors like Justice Verma and his successor,
former chief justice of India Dr A S Anand, and the likes of
lawyer Sadhana, who stood unwaveringly by his side, and Dr
Dhirendra Bana from Boston who insisted on pleading his case.
Through rediff.com he also wanted to thank all those who
had flooded him with e-mails and messages of support and sympathy.
Toppo is confident that he
will now cross the final frontier -- registration as a medical
practitioner with the MCI -- because he has a watertight
case. But right now he just wants to return home, to rest and
relax among the rolling green hills and lush forests of his native