Visually Challenged Candidate Makes UGC History
No matter whether Miranda Tomkinson qualifies in the University Grant Commission’s national eligibility test (NET) held on December 29, he has earned a permanent place for himself in the history of the highest statutory body by virtue of being the first visually challenged candidate to get a question paper in Braille for the examination. Thanks to a Madras High Court directive to UGC, the package containing a set of three question papers in Braille arrived here by flight from New Delhi around 4 pm on Saturday.
On Sunday morning, Miranda, who is both aurally and visually challenged, arrived at the examination venue – MGR Janaki College – accompanied by Smita Sadasivam from Vidyasagar and Robert Richard of the National Institute Multiple Disabilities.
He appeared tense as the road to the examination hall had not been easy for him. A post-graduate in sociology, his attempts to write NET last June had failed and finally he approached Vidyasagar in September this year. “We take cases of violation of rights of persons with disabilities,” said Smita Sadasivam. “We first wrote to UGC, but did not get any reply. Then, we wrote to the state and chief commissioners for persons of disabilities in Chennai and Delhi. Again, there was no response.”
The organisation then contacted the University of Madras, which sent a missive to UGC. On December 20, the university informed the NGO that the apex body had denied permission to Miranda as a matter of policy decision this year, but that it could be considered next year. “Hence, we filed an emergency petition in the Madras High Court,” Sadasivam said.
On December 27, Justice S Vaidyanathan held that denying a questionnaire in Braille to Miranda would amount to discrimination and directed the UGC to furnish a question book in Braille not just to the petitioner but to all such candidates aspiring to write the NET on Sunday.
“There are 275 blind and low-vision candidates from Chennai,” the activist pointed out. “I am not sure whether they are aware of the court order.”
Asked about his test-preparedness, Miranda said that he could not concentrate much on his studies because of the legal issues. “I have prepared for the test with the little amount of time available to me. Still, I have great hopes.”
Claiming that the UGC had not provided any compassionate assistance despite making several requests, he said: “I should be judged fairly. The evaluation should be done fairly.”
At the hall, examination officials provided Miranda with a scribe and, as a special case, allowed Robert Richard to sit with him.
Of the 1,002 candidates appearing for NET at the centre, six, including Miranda, suffered from disabilities.