Dr Shivani Salil recollects the journey of one of her students, Roshan Jahan Jawad Shaikh, who beat all odds to fulfill her dreams.

The day she walked into my class, a shy looking girl, her face wrapped in a hijab, prostheses and all, my first reflex was to come forward and help her negotiate the steps of the lecture theatre. Ours is a century old Medical college so expecting its architecture to be friendlier towards her was a tall order. Curbing my initial impulse, I waited for her to find a place. My eyes followed her as she did that and what struck me the most was the fact that never once did she flinch. Rather, she was smilingly moving around, but the look of fierce determination on her face was unmistakable.

We do have a quota for the ‘physically handicapped’ students in our MBBS entrance exams so having her around should not have raised my curiosity. But something about her was so attractive, almost charismatic, that I felt drawn towards her. I would keep seeing her in my lectures and practical classes and got to know about her. The more I knew, the more my admiration grew for her.

I would keep seeing her in my lectures and practical classes and gradually got to know about her. The more I knew, the more my admiration grew for her.

The daughter of a humble vegetable vendor in Jogeshwari, she had always harboured dreams to become a doctor. She knew it was an expensive dream but studied hard to make it a reality. A promising student of Anjuman-e-Islam school in Bandra, she was the top scorer of her suburb in the SSC exams, life couldn’t have been more ordinary for her. Until that fateful day in 2008, when she fell off one of those Mumbai locals. People saw her fall but oddly enough no one pulled a chain. She tried pushing her torso away from harm’s way holding on tightly to the adjacent railway tracks, but the legs bore the brunt of the entire train running over her. I shudder even to imagine the white pain that she must have gone through when even a small cut is painful and intolerable for most of us. She cried for help and the onlookers gathered but did nothing at least not until she passed out.

I shudder even to imagine the white pain that she must have gone through when even a small cut is painful and intolerable for most of us.

When she regained consciousness, she found herself in a hospital bed staring its ceiling having lost both her legs. The left from the knee on and the right one from the hip down. For a bright 16-year-old girl who was taking her class 11 exams, the world she had known crashed in front of her eyes. The physical pain of surgery and rehabilitation coupled with mental agony, can drive anyone to despair. How tough it must have been for her and her family who was already struggling to make ends meet. But she was a tough cookie who gathered herself, albeit on a wheelchair and went on to finish her Class 11 exams. Board exams followed next year where she not only managed a distinction with a score of 75% but pleasantly surprised everyone by cracking the medical entrance exam and ranked third in the physically-handicapped quota.

Slowly but surely, life was smiling down at her again. Just when she rejoiced with her parents who must’ve thought the past was a painful memory to be left behind, she was told she couldn’t pursue MBBS. The reason, an archaic rule that states that a maximum of 70% disability is permissible and conducive to pursuing a rigorous course like MBBS. With her disability at more than 90%, she was way above  (below?) that benchmark. Crestfallen she didn’t know where to look, when her orthopaedic surgeon, walked in as her guiding star. Following his suggestion, they decided to approach the Bombay High Court to challenge this law. Money was the quintessential question for the family of five who shared a ten by ten dwelling, stretching the penny every which way. At this point walked in a good Samaritan, a senior lawyer, who waived off his fee and even bore other legal expenses to fight on her behalf.

The reason, an archaic rule that states that a maximum of 70% disability is permissible and conducive to pursuing a rigorous course like MBBS.

The efforts and the intentions did their magic and she could finally step into Seth GS Medical College & KEM Hospital, one of the premier medical schools of our country. By now her cause had attracted attention and help poured in from the public and NGOs which took care of her expensive prostheses. An MLA kept his promise to sponsor her medical education, which otherwise would have been a daunting hurdle. She went on to inspire many around her as she passed MBBS in first class in 2016. Not one to rest on her laurels though, she had set her goals even higher…… a postgraduate specialisation.

Was she biting more than she could chew…? Oh no, no… as she once again dazzled everyone by sailing through the postgraduate entrance exams. But as they say, many a slip ‘twixt the cup and lips. The law of the land posed the same threat again. To avoid rejection, she sought help from MP, Mr Kirit Somaiyya, who was so impressed by her journey that he approached the central ministry. Not only did she get a chance to pursue an MD in Pathology in her alma mater, but her precedence also paved the way for future aspirants like her. The gritty girl created history when the ‘up to 70% disability’ as a permissible criterion for medical courses was done away with.

The gritty girl created history when the ‘up to 70% disability’ as a permissible criterion for medical courses was done away with.

The girl who dreamt big is now pursuing her post-graduation and nurses an ambition for the IAS and knowing her enough now, we all know that’s not an insurmountable task for her. As they say ‘ Kaun Kehta Hai Ki Aasma Main Suraakh Nahin Ho Sakta, Ek Paththar to Tabiyat Se Uchalo Yaaro’ ( Who says we cannot drill a hole in the sky, just try throwing a stone with all your might!).

Roshan Jahan Jawad Shaikh
Roshan Jahan Jawad Shaikh

She has also taken to public speaking (including the prestigious TEDx gateway conference) is using her popularity to good use by highlighting the issues of the differently-abled and creating awareness among others.

Many awards and accolades have come her way among which one of the recent ones is aptly the ‘Bharat Prerna Award’ as she is a true inspiration for all of us especially the ones who crib and make excuses for their failures. As I write this, I am reminded of an Ayn Rand, “The question is not who’s going to let me, but who’s going to stop me.” When I look at this young girl, I salute her indomitable spirit and can almost hear her challenge her circumstances as she takes them headlong. She is the unstoppable force or should we say the force of nature, a girl who has truly lived up to her name… That, in a nutshell, is Dr Roshan Jahan Jawad Shaikh for you…

Dr Shivani Salil taught as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at Seth GSMC & KEM Hospital, Mumbai. The views expressed are the author’s own.
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