Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Will it be an MSed opportunity

Let me lead up to my pitch with a bunch of seemingly unrelated facts:
  • Some time ago, I had clubbed one of my many academic visits to mathematician friends in Sydney with a brief visit to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. My wife really wanted to visit New Zealand, but I had to disappoint her because my monthly take-home paycheck was nowhere near as healthy then as it is today. 
  • My wife and I will be having our 25th wedding anniversary this December.
  • Our daughter (in fact, only child) has been living in Wellington, New Zealand, where she is pursuing a one year programme at the film school there.
  • So I thought `what better way of killing two birds with one stone' than our spending a few weeks around our wedding anniversary with our daughter, driving around some of this beautiful country and seeing as much of it as we can.
  • The missing ingredient to this pot pourri of facts is that unlike my bank balance, I am not as healthy today as I was when I visited New Zealand without my wife. I got Multiple Sclerosis some twelve years ago, as a result of which I have been operating out of a wheelchair throughout the current decade.

Now, let me put all these ingredients together into my mystery story. My wife and I applied for our visas to enter New Zealand. Somewhere in that application form, I had to mention the fact that I had multiple sclerosis. A week later, I received an email from the Immigration New Zealand office in Mumbai, saying I had to submit complete medical requirements through one of their empaneled doctors. So I go and undergo all these tests - incidentally incurring an expense of around 200 NZD. I sent a scanned copy I received from the hospital to the lady in the INZ office in Mumbai who had set the cat among the pigeons in the first place, incidentally asking how much longer it should take for us to obtain our visas. And her answer is that while the medical reports have been sent to the medical assessor, the normal `turnaround time for receiving the assessment' is 12 WEEKS. (And this is in spite of my having submitted copies of a letter from my doctor (at least twice) to the effect that I was capable of going to New Zealand or anywhere, as I was was traveling with my care-giver (wife). And my doctor is an eminent neurologist of international renown, as is apparent from his letter-head!) I told her that my receiving the reports in 12 weeks - which would take us to some time in February! - would be useless for me, iterating that part of the initial reason for this New Zealand idea was to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary that fell in mid-December with a daughter now working in New Zealand, and requesting that she put in a special request to the medical assessor. Answer:  `the medical assessor does not entertain any requests'.

Being a moderately accomplished mathematician (see my home-page at  http://www.imsc.res.in/~sunder/), I have traveled to numerous countries, more than once in many cases, and have NEVER applied for a visa more than 4 months ahead of the expected date of travel, nor have I ever had a visa application turned down. If this requirement is being imposed on me for no reason other than my MS - which is not even a contagious disease that will threaten the health of people in the vicinity - then it will be a violation of at least five or six of the following principles enunciated in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (to which convention New Zealand became a signatory on 30 March 2007 according to the Wikipedia):

The principles of the present Convention shall be:

(a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons;

(b) Non-discrimination;

(c) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;

(d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;

(e) Equality of opportunity;

(f) Accessibility;

(g) Equality between men and women;

(h) Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

I haven't got to this stage of my life by taking things lying down. I still haven't given up hope of being with our daughter on our wedding anniversary: I am hoping that somebody in New Zealand will see this blogpost and decide to do some disability activism and take up cudgels on my behalf.

By the way, the mystery I was alluding to in this story is how it is going to end: will the good guys win or be thwarted by what can best be described as an unwarranted and unnecessary bureaucracy that refuses to look at the facts and do the only possible decent thing under the circumstances. Nothing in the visa form said I would need to take a medical! The form talks only about people wanting to come for six months or more. I only wish to spend a measly two weeks. I will have overseas medical insurance, and in the unlikely event that my `condition' should manifest itself in another episode, and that my insurance will not pay for this pre-existing condition, I have given enough proof of my financial solvency to show that I can pay for whatever expenses are incurred; and nobody will be left with a a destitute and unwell Indian on their hands! Is there no way a person with MS can travel between international borders?