In a first of its kind move, the National Medical Commission (NMC) on 13 October, issued an advisory directing various medical textbooks in forensic medicine, toxicology, and psychiatry to amend unscientific and derogatory remarks against members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
"While teaching UG/PG students wherever the issue of gender or similar kind arise, the mention of Clinical history or complaints or signs/symptoms, examination findings or history about nomenclature shall not be taught in such a way that it becomes/perceived in any way derogatory/discriminatory/insulting to the LGBTQIA+ community," the NMC statement said.
It added that all authors are instructed to amend information on virginity and the queer community.
What Led to the Directive
The order was passed by the NMC as per the direction of the Madras High Court. In a landmark judgment earlier this year, judge N Anand Venkatesh issued a slew of instructions to both state and central agencies to frame guidelines that recognise the basic rights of the queer community.
This was in connection with the petition by two women who were in a same-sex relationship and sought to be protected from their respective families.
“We suggested to Honourable Judge Anand Ventakesh that for people to change their perspective, the curriculum must change. For example, one text said: 'Lesbians who are morbidly jealous of one another, when rejected may commit homicide, suicide or both,' read an excerpt from a forensic medicine and toxicology book."Dr L Ramakrishnan, Vice President, SAATHII, an NGO, told The Quint
SAATHII works for bettering healthcare access to women, children and LGBTQIA+ communities. Five years ago, they collaborated with Dr Sameera Jahangirdar to review books across nine medical subjects for views against homosexual and transgender people. It was based on this that they made recommendations to Justice Ventakesh.
The Madras HC also referred to Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju's report which stated that the textbooks described “sodomy”, “lesbianism” and “oral sex” as sexual offences, including references to cross-dressing as “sexual perversion”.
"Finally, the issue is not only one of misrepresentation but also one of absence. For instance, standard Indian textbooks in paediatrics do not mention same-gender attraction or transgender identity in a non-pathologising manner while addressing child and adolescent development,” Dr L Ramakrishnan added.
Welcome Move, but Long Way To Go: Experts Speak
“I hope the future generations of medical professionals are knowledgeable, wise, compassionate, and ethical in their approach to their patients from the LGBTIQ community. The first step is by understanding the wrong steps and next being learning the right one!” said Dr Sameera Jahagirdar, an ICU specialist with National Health Service, United Kingdom.
Dr Aqsa Shaikh, who works at Delhi's Jamia Hamdard Hospital, and is a member of the queer community said that while it is a step in the right direction to weed off queerphobia and transphobia, more needs to be done.
"The NMC's MBBS curriculum itself is lacking in competencies that will enable a future medical graduate from providing correct and empathetic care to patients from the queer community. Also, the advisory committee formed by the NMC doesn't have a single person from the queer community. While this is a start we need more action and accountability on the part of the NMC rather than passing the buck," Shaikh told The Quint.