Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“Blatant violations of rights of passengers- meeting”

It was yesterday that I was retuning from Delhi to Hyderabad after attending a meeting chaired by the Joint Secretary Civil Aviation. The title of the meeting was “Blatant violations of rights of passengers- meeting” and the real agenda of the meeting is unknown to me but I believe after having attended it, that the agenda was to give patient one hour fifteen hearing to the disabled people to somewhere pacify the anger in the sector regarding denying air travel to Jeeja Ghosh very recently.

I came out of the meeting jubilated that we were heard. I must say did boost my hopes for a short while.

I took the last flight out of the Delhi airport to reach Hyderabad at 11:00pm. I waited patiently for my luggage that included my wheelchair to arrive when by about midnight the airline staff looked into my matter as I was the only person left. I was informed that my wheelchair and cushion was sent to Bangalore.

Exhausted after the long day my only reaction was to ask ‘now what?’ In high spirits the ground staff happily informed me that my wheelchair would be back by the first flight the next morning at 6:30am and delivered to me.

I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. On one hand in reaction to his perkiness my rightful response should have been of illation and appreciation, but on the other hand the words I was hearing were unbelievable. The thing is my wheelchair can be equated to my legs, I cannot move without my wheelchair.

I tried explaining this to ground staff, for whom my wheelchair was equal to a suitcase or a bag. Without any apologies he with a straight face said that they couldn’t do anything now. I asked him to talk to his assistant manager. He too said there was nothing they could do.

Our argument could have continued all night without resolution, but something made me ask him for a written statement saying they couldn’t do anything to help me. Instantly he called his asst. manager again who in turn called the manager who finally said that I could carry one of their dilapidated wheelchair home with me and return it the next day after my wheelchair was returned. 

It was 1 am by now. Tired I didn’t want to discuss anything more and left leaving their wheelchair behind because I am one of the few lucky people who have a standby wheelchair at home.

Since then I cannot but help rethink about the pacifying meeting we had yesterday with the Joint Secretary. At the meeting there were no solid actionable points decided on. Throughout there was flagging of issues we voiced and saying that they would look into the matter. There was a talk of forming a small committee to work on the issue without clarity of any timeframes.  When asked specifically about what action would be taken against Spice Jet in Jeeja’s case the JS very vehemently said that he did not want to talk about it in ‘public’. Here I was feeling stupid, thinking that we had gone to discuss the Blatant Violations of rights of passengers.

I apologies if some feel that I am being pessimistic but really I am confused about what the real outcome of the meeting was. My pessimism is based on past experience when in 2008 after several meeting with the Director General Civil Aviation the Civil Aviation Requirement on carriage of disabled people was enacted…yet four year later almost everyday disabled people are being discriminated.

My only hope this time is that we shouldn’t be so excitement about getting a patient hearing from the Ministry of Civil Aviation.  We need to stop congratulating ourselves and realize we still have no idea yet if action will be taken against the airlines for discrimination. Our hands are still empty and nothing has changed or expected to change in the near future.  

Shivani Gupta 
Director AccessAbility

My wheelchair is not my identity

I became disabled person when I was 22 years old in a car accident. There was a very marked change in people’s behaviour towards me, and o...