NEW DELHI: In a country where getting tribal children to study continues to be a daunting task, the success of Meera Ekka is significant. The tribal girl from Sundargarh district in Orissa made a mark for herself and her village by securing admission in India’s premier medical institute AIIMS. She had topped the PG entrance exam among ST category students in year 2004. Ekka did her senior residency and research and is currently working as an assistant professor in the institute’s medicine department on a contractual basis.
But her dreams suffered a setback recently when AIIMS rejected her application for hiring as permanent faculty even under the Schedule Tribe (ST) category – a decision that has shocked not just the applicant but even some of her teachers.
“If a tribal student who has done her PG, senior residency and all research work at AIIMS is not fit for the job, then who else is? Also, when they continue her for contractual work, why not as a permanent staffer? AIIMS should explain,” said a senior faculty.
Sources said interviews for six posts – two unreserved (UR), two OBC, one SC and one ST – of assistant professor in the department of medicine were held on March 14. “Three ST candidates, including Ekka, turned up. However, no candidate was selected and the ST post was left vacant along with one UR and one OBC post,” said a source. He added that this was the first time in the past three decades that an ST post was advertised in the department. The tribal candidate had also applied for the post of assistant professor in 2012. There were two posts – one UR and one OBC – and she was not selected.
A source said the applicant wrote to AIIMS director Dr M C Misra, requesting him to re-consider the decision made by the selection committee on June 12. “Sir, this (rejection) has shattered me and my family…that even after receiving PG training from AIIMS, working as senior resident, research officer and as contractual assistant professor, I am still unfit to become a faculty at AIIMS. Sir, I am a Scheduled Tribe person from a poor family of farmers with nothing but hard work and merit,” Ekka wrote. Later, she also approached an MP from her hometown who forwarded her complaint to the health ministry.
Dr Neerja Bhatla, chairperson of the media and protocol division at AIIMS, said she was not aware of the case details. “All selections are made by a committee of experts from the country. They look into the academic profile, publications and research work carried out by the applicant to decide on selection,” she said. Ekka, on the other hand, refused to comment on her application and the merits of the case. “I do not want to talk to the media about my complaint,” she said.
A senior doctor in department of medicine, who did not want to be quoted, said Ekka comes from a remote village in the tribal district of Orissa where there are few schools. “She is perhaps the first doctor from the tribe scattered in forests across the Sundargarh district in Orissa. Her work experience and publications are equal to many of the general candidates selected in the interviews. I do not why she has been denied an opportunity,” he said.
Some faculty members, however, alleged AIIMS has a history of keeping the reserved posts vacant. “AIIMS held interviews for 140 faculty positions between March and May. At least 25 posts reserved for various SC, ST and OBC candidates were left vacant because they could not find suitable candidates,” said a faculty member.