Last week, Aditya Mehta, a two-time paralympic medalist, was asked to strip and remove his prosthetic leg as part of security checks at two Indian airports within a span few days. In a series of Facebook posts, Mehta wrote of his right to dignity and the need to install more sensitive security procedures for differently-abled people.
It was a grim reminder of the challenges faced by differently-abled persons while travelling in India. From being asked to strip at security checks or being asked to get off an airplane, there are countless example of people with disabilities being treated with insensitivity. Activists say that these incidents occur repeatedly because of a lack of protocol and training. While the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has issued guidelines for making air travel accessible for the differently-abled, infrastructural support in the form of ramps, modified toilets and wheelchairs, remains patchy.
1. Aditya Mehta, the para-cyclist who has won two silver medals at the 2013 Asian Paralympics, was forced to remove his prosthetic and get it scanned at Bengaluru's Kempegowda International Airport last week. A few days later, he was subjected to a similar security check at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. On Facebook, Mehta wrote that an assistant commandant told him that the Bureau of Civil Aviation didn't have enough funds to get a body scanner, which would not have required such a check.
2. In January, Delhi professor and disability rights activist Anita Ghai said that she had to "crawl" to the passenger coach after landing at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, as Air India was unable to provide a wheelchair for her until she had reached the arrivals hall. The government-run airline denied the charges, saying that it had provided the wheelchair at the aircraft itself.
3. Also in January, Mumbai resident Antara Telang was forced take off her jeans and prosthetic leg by security personnel at Mumbai's Chhtrapati Shivaji International Airport in order to get it scanned. Though she told them to use a ETD (explosive trace detector) or do a pat down check, but was taken to a private room where she had to hop on one leg to remove her jeans. The 24-year-old said that she had never been asked to remove her prosthetic at any airport before this.
4. In 2012, another activist Jeeja Ghosh was forcibly offloaded from a SpiceJet flight without any medical examination. Ghosh, who suffers from cerebral palsy, contested the decision in the court. In a landmark judgement in May, the Supreme Court asked the airlines to pay Rs 10 lakh in damages to Ghosh and said that the incident reflected a "total lack of insensitivity and "unreasonable discrimination" towards differently-abled persons.
"What is to be borne in mind is that they are also human beings and they have to grow as normal persons and are to be extended all facilities in this behalf," the court added. "Persons with disability are a most neglected lot not only in the society but also in the family."
5. In September 2015, disability rights activist Javed Abidi was forced to get off his wheelchair and shift to another one to get it scanned at the Delhi airport. Abidi, who has helped frame the guidelines to prevent discrimination at Indian airports said that security officials asked him to either miss his flight or comply with the rules. A similar incident occurred with activist Rajiv Rajan at the Chennai airport this August.