Interview: Why NMC must make MBBS textbooks queer-friendly

Homophobia in MBBS curriculum: NMC must revise medical college textbooks because ‘future doctors are being taught something against the law’

Interview: Why NMC must make MBBS textbooks queer-friendly MBBS textbooks need to be queer-friendly
Pritha Roy Choudhury | Sep 16, 2021 - 9:28 a.m. IST
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New Delhi: The Kerala High Court recently asked the medical education regulatory authority, the National Medical Commission (NMC) and Undergraduate Medical Education Board to consider removing unscientific, derogatory comments about the queer community from MBBS textbooks. The High Court acted after two NGOs, Queerythm and Disha, filed a writ petition seeking removal of the content. Advocate Legith T Kottakkal, counsel for the petitioners, spoke to Careers360 about the court case and the experiences that led to it.

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Q. What triggered the writ petition?

A. The petition was filed through two NGOs, one is Queerythm and the other is Disha. Queerythm is exclusively managed and organized for the well-being of the queer community itself. In Queerythm as well as in Disha, there are many transgender students and from sexual minorities (LGBTQIA or lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) pursuing medical education.

Many volunteers pursuing MBBS are bullied by their peers because of the content in the textbooks. For example, they are taught that lesbianism is unnatural, a perversion etc. This causes discrimination and they are not able to face society. Future doctors are being taught something against the law because the Supreme Court has decriminalised homosexuality This is against the law of the nation. They filed the writ petition on these two aspects.

The queer community has been suffering for many years. For the last few months, they have intensified their fight. Still, they are being bullied. The Supreme Court verdict [in 2018] clearly says that the government, as well as the public authorities, shall do things that would be in consonance with the judgement. Till now, nothing has come from the NMC. The most important thing is that the doctors of tomorrow are being taught something wrong.

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Q. Was there any specific incident which led to the filing of the petition?

A. This is a very private thing and I cannot give you examples. Queerythm and Disha, are the source. This was after the data filed by Disha and Queerthym.

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Q. The petition refers to unscientific data and inhuman remarks against the transgender community and sexual minorities in a textbook. What were these?

A. The textbook is not in consonance with the judgement. Many MBBS textbooks consider homosexuality, lesbianism etc. either a mental disorder or unnatural offence, in contrast to Section 377 of the Indian penal code which has been read down by the Supreme Court. In some textbooks, these are considered sexual perversions. It is not. It is the identity of that person. It is a case of privacy also.

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Classifying a person as transgender or a person from a sexual minority is one aspect. One has to see that the sexual orientation of a person is a matter of privacy. Whether the person is a lesbian or homosexual or gay whatever the sexual orientation it is a matter of privacy. So, if it is a matter of privacy and it is being taught in the medical colleges that sexual orientation is an offence, then it will affect the mental health of the person who has a different sexual orientation. It is their right to express their sexual orientation and if society sees it otherwise, these people will not be able to express themselves. And when they express themselves, they will be considered a pervert. To express themselves and their identity is part of their fundamental right.

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Q. After the High Court order, what is the next step?

A. The High Court decision has to be seconded by the undergraduate curriculum board. Kerala University of Health Sciences (KUHS Thrissur) has to give their opinion because it has been made a party in this matter and the students we are representing are part of KUHS. We have also made representations to the university to make changes in the curriculum.

The undergraduate medical education board is the body competent to decide on the aspects concerning curriculum and the text. KUHS does not decide the curriculum.

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Q. Why do you think regulators like the NMC have not acted on the Supreme Court order?

A. They failed to act. The curriculum was revised in 2018 by the Medical Council of India. Then, In 2019, the National Medical Commission Act was enacted and a separate board also started functioning as an independent body under the act. New developments have happened after 2018. So, the undergraduate board has to act first and not the MCI.

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