On December 17, a wheelchair-bound researcher, Kaushik Majumdar, was not allowed to board the Air India flight. Majumdar, who is a researcher at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), alleged harassment by the airline’s ground staff just before he was to board the Bengaluru-Kolkata flight. He suffers from 85 per cent orthopaedic disability.
Majumdar’s humiliating experience:
Recounting his traumatic experience, Majumdar claimed that he was told that all the wires connected to the battery of his wheelchair would be dismantled. He refused to agree to it because of the sole reason that the airline staff or Majumdar himself would not have been able to put the mechanism back together.
Majumdar told The Hindu:
I use an electrical wheelchair, which runs on a dry battery. After taking my boarding pass and clearing the security check, I took the bus to the aircraft. Right before entering the plane, the ground staff stopped me and asked me to shift to a non-electrical wheelchair, which I agreed to. But despite disconnecting the battery of the wheelchair, which was to go inside the cargo hold, the staff said that all the wires connected to the battery had to be removed. I did not agree to that as it is a complex mechanism and neither I nor the ground staff at the destination airport would be able to fix it back. I am completely dependent on the wheelchair.
He further added:
I wanted to go home to get some rest as I have not been keeping well for sometime now. But, I was not allowed on the flight. It was a harrowing experience for me.
Airline refutes harassment charges
A spokesperson from Air India presented a different version of the events. The spokesperson claimed that even though Majumdar had agreed to all the terms and conditions laid down by the airline before boarding, he refused to switch to a non-electrical wheelchair.
The spokesperson alleged:
While checking in, he had agreed to the terms, but before entering the flight refused to shift to the non-electrical wheelchair. Battery-operated wheelchairs are not allowed in the flight. It is a safety regulation and we cannot violate it at any cost.
This is not the first time that Majumdar has faced such harassment at the hands of airline staff. In July this year, he had come across a similar situation, but that time the staff had let him travel.
We look at all the other times the differently-abled had faced alleged discrimination while travelling.
70-year-old woman not allowed to board a flight due to overbooking:
In May 2016, a 70-year-old woman in a wheelchair was not allowed to board an Air India flight. According to the reports published by Zee News, she was not allowed to board a flight to New York from Mumbai via Delhi allegedly due to overbooking.
However, the woman was later flown on the airline’s Delhi-London Heathrow flight to provide her a connecting flight to New York.
Woman forced to take off her prosthetic leg at Mumbai airport:
A report published by The Wire in February 2016 stated another humiliating incident on the flight. A 24-year-old woman, Antara Telang, was forced to take off her prosthetic leg and put it through the luggage scanner before she was allowed to board her flight at Mumbai airport.
Speaking her mind about the incident, Telang said that she has faced this humiliating experience many times when flying out of Mumbai. But this has never happened in any other airport either in India or abroad.
Air Vistara’s mistreatment of Paralympian Deepa Malik:
Indian Paralympic silver medallist was also caught in a controversy when she complained about Air Vistara’s “poor wheelchair handling” and the “rude” attitude of a cabin crew member on a flight. When Malik called her mother to inform her about the flight delay, an air hostess allegedly said, “sweetheart chill.”
Sharing her experience, she had tweeted, “Very poor handling of wheelchair passenger in Deboarding and fragile items. Rude and ill mannered crew. Sad experience”
After her complaint drew quite a bit of attention on social media, Vistara issued an apology:
— Vistara (@airvistara) October 5, 2016
Disability activist denied a wheelchair:
Earlier in January, Disability activist, Anita Ghai was denied a wheelchair by Air India flight. Anita alleged that she had to crawl to the passenger coach after deboarding the flight in Delhi from Dehradun.
However, Air India, issuing a statement strongly denied the charges, saying that a wheelchair was provided at the door of the aircraft, even if a little delayed.
But, she said, “They are lying through their teeth.”