At 55, Dr Sushil K Punshi, now a readymade garment shop owner in Pune, recollects only dimly what microbiology and medicine are all about. Punshi has not used ‘Dr’ as a prefix to his name for 24 years now — since 1991 to be precise, when he migrated to India from Pakistan. But the man, with little time left for ‘retirement’, is ready to start afresh, mulling over the available options—perhaps applying to private hospitals or opening a clinic in Pune.
In a landmark decision taken at the latest executive committee meeting of the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC), Punshi, along with six other migrant doctors from Pakistan, received approval to practise medicine in India, after a long wait.
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“I always wanted to become a doctor, help others. I even went to London in 1989 to study microbiology. But since 1991, I have not been able to practise. From a doctor, I became a shopkeeper,” says Punshi. He had worked as a general practitioner for three years after completing MBBS from Sindhi University in 1986 in Pakistan. In 1991, he left Pakistan and took shelter in Pune. After him, six others—Moolchand Motwani from Ulhasnagar, Jairam Udassi from Jalgaon, Dilip Moorpani from Ulhasnagar, Lalchand Lassi from Ulhasnagar, Dilip Kumar Lassi and Santosh Manglani migrated from Pakistan to India following the Babri Masjid episode that triggered tension against Hindus in Pakistan.
“My nephew was kidnapped and a ransom of Rs 15 lakh was demanded. A temple next to my house was burnt soon after Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya. And doctors were targeted frequently as they were well known in local areas,” remembers Jairam Udassi, now based in Jalgaon. He took the decision to migrate in 1996. He had served in Pakistan’s government hospitals for 12 years.
For 42-year-old Dr Dilip Moorpani, who graduated from Chandka Medical College, Sindh province, the decision to move out of Pakistan was a tough one. He had a bright career and several options to work in Dadu, a town in Sindh. In 1998, he took a spontaneous decision to leave his hometown.
“I had a younger sister. Living with constant fear of kidnapping or molestation always bothered me,” he says. He moved to Ulhasnagar, where his uncle lived, in 1998. “We shifted at a cost. For me, it was to sacrifice medical field until I got citizenship,” admits Moorpani.
While Punshi got an Indian citizenship in 2000, his application for registration as a doctor in India had been pending for 15 years with the Medical Council of India (MCI), a regulatory body that monitors ethics and practices of allopathic doctors. An allopathic doctor has to obtain a licence from the MCI to practise in India. While government hospitals struggle with shortage of doctors, these seven doctors are eagerly waiting to get hired in medical service.
Lalchand Lassi (60) has been waiting for a registration since 1996. He was forced to leave Pakistan after his clinic was damaged in Karachi. While he initially went to charitable hospitals to assist, that stopped in 2003 after he got an Indian citizenship. “Before 2003, I worked as a migrant doctor. But after 2003, I had to get registration to work, which the MCI was not providing,” he says. He had to switch to cloth business in 2003 with his sons, which continues till now.
Moorpani, who shifted to India in 1998 and got citizenship in 2012, had to visit a Thane office every year to get his visa extended. The fear of not belonging to any country persisted for 15 years. He used to serve through a medical trust in Nagpada where he earned Rs 7 per patient. When savings started dwindling, he had to sit at his father’s grocery shop in Ulhasnagar to earn a living. “I completed my studies in 1995 and did only a year-long internship. I am eagerly waiting to practise now,” he says.
The seven doctors claim they had been directed back and forth between the MCI and the MMC for registration all these years.
Admitting that a significant delay has been seen in the registration process, MMC president Dr Kishor Taori says the matter was brought to his notice in 2013 following which he took it up with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the MCI.
“Since they came from Pakistan, their registration took longer. We presented their case to the ministry, which further discussed it with the external affairs ministry. After several months, MCI was given a nod to register them,” says Taori, adding that the MCI declared in 2013 that only states would register doctors, not MCI, which helped in speeding up the process for these seven doctors.
The registration process is under way even as several of them have neared retirement age. Punshi’s two sons are now pursuing engineering and he has established a business in the city. But he is now going to apply to hospitals.
“I used to go to charitable organisations and assist doctors to keep a grip on my field. The salary was meagre but I got to maintain contact with the field,” he says. In the last two decades, he has been making daily rounds of clinics to help doctors, sometimes for free, after his work at shop is over.
Udassi (60) is hopeful too. “A doctor is never too old to work. His experience only improves,” he says. Lassi, however, admits returning to the field after over a decade in another country will be a challenge in old age. “It will take at least a year to regain confidence,” he says.
According to MMC officials, the process of registration will be completed in a fortnight, following which each of the seven doctors will get a registration number.