An activist for disability rights, 43-year-old Rajiv Rajan has been fighting the good fight for over a decade now. Memories of bad experiences in dealing with people insensitive to his condition is seemingly ingrained into his memory.
Early on Friday morning, Rajan blogged about a recent incident that happened while he was on a Jet Airways flight from Bhopal to Chennai with a stop-over in Mumbai. Rajan described the attitude and callousness of the authorities in handling someone with his condition.
The following is an account of his experience, exactly like he says it in his blog:
It was 3.30pm and i was in a meeting room of youth group in Vikalp Sangam at Bhopal. I received a call from an unknown number, a number i have not saved.Normally i would not attend such calls when i am in a meeting. But this time i asked my friend Balu to attend the call.He came back after a couple of minutes saying that our flight routes to Chennai is diverted via Mumbai instead of Delhi and that the flight would depart from Bhopal at 9.30pm and the connecting flight from Mumbai was at 2.00am. I just then realised that i would be in the nick of time to reaching Chennai for an important personal ceremony for which i had to be there. This compulsion has changed me to be a passive receiver of the tortures that was to follow during the entire journey.
The Long Ordeal:
We started from our place of accommodation in Bhopal around 6.30 pm to reach the airport at 8.00 pm. I had prepared myself to reach Chennai at whatever costs it may take and that was the only goal for me in the next 10 to 12 hours. I entered the airport as usual and asked for my personal wheelchair to go until the aircraft. To my pleasant surprise, that would last for only a couple of minutes though, the person at the Jet Airways counter agreed to it.
Then came the first of many instances that could have provoked the activist in me, if it was a normal course of journey. The person at the Jet Airways counter informed my wheelchair assistant from the airlines to make me sit on a nearby chair and get the wheelchair screened. It was enough for me to get provoked. At that time my memory went back to an early morning in 2007. On that miserable day, I was not given a Boarding pass despite holding a valid ticket and an invitation from the Government of India to attend a working group meeting organised by MSJE, GoI. That incident created a lot of flutter resulting in the Civil Aviation Rule for the Air Travel of persons with disability and reduced mobility in 2010. I was a part of the drafting committee of this version of the rule. I also filed a defamation case in the consumer court, which unfortunately never took off. Those memories and the importance of the rituals waiting back home made me agree to whatever the ground staff told me to do.
After the first screening of the wheelchair, fortunately my condition does not prevent me from shifting from chair to chair by myself, i reached the security check. There again as usual the security personnel asked me if i could stand up. I said, i cannot. Then he murmured something and frisked me. But again asked the wheel chair to be screened. the activist in me was at the brim. But another incident in my life told me to calm down as my aim was to reach Chennai. It was sometime in 2011, at IGI airport Delhi, a group of us were returning from a meeting. Here again, i was coming from a GoI meeting. The security at the airport said that they cannot let the personal wheelchairs of the group near the aircraft. We had a long argument which lead to the group almost missing the flight had it taken off on time. We were lucky enough that the flight was delayed on that day.But i was not sure whether the lady luck would be with me this time also. So again i gave in.
I never realised that the worst of all is waiting for me in the Mumbai airport. But before we go to Mumbai, in Bhopal the flight was put on an aerobridge, but i was carried up the backdoor as a backdoor entrant and as a sack of baggage by 4 people on a small aisle chair without even a seat belt. After landing in Mumbai, i was brought down the same way and was almost dropped by the airline staff. I reached so far without realising that my wheelchair would not be given to me at the door step without shouting and fighting. Subsequently i shifted to my wheelchair, my 5th transfer since i reached the airport in Bhopal.
Once i reached the boarding gate of my connecting flight the leading staff noticed that i had permission to take my wheelchair only till Mumbai and not up to Chennai. Remember all this is happening in the middle of the night!! Then my friend has to rush to the counter and get the stamping done and from thereon my travel was kind of accessible as the aircraft was on aerobridge. After i reached Chennai also there was a huge delay in getting the wheelchair. Finally i got out in Chennai at 5.15 am after a grueling 9 hours.
I know that these stories are not one of cases but are happening throughout the world despite laws and technological developments. We persons with disability are left wondering as to What prevents the Government, Airlines, Airports Authority from implementing the laws and in using the technology for easy movement of all persons with disability and reduced mobility? Will the dark tunnel see some light at the end?!! A BILLION DOLLAR QUESTION WITH NO ANSWER.
Rajiv is the founder of Ektha, an organisation that champions the cause of people with disabilities. He has also been awarded the National Award in the Role Model Category from the President for the Year 2007.