Srinagar, Aug. 17: Sexual harassment, the bane of India’s buses and trains, entered airplane aisles today when a sky marshal targeted a woman passenger with a chief minister aboard.
The Air Deccan flight to Delhi had still not taken off from the heavily guarded Srinagar airport when commando Kumar Krishan, assigned to protect the passengers, allegedly made a pass at a 23-year-old woman.
As the 50-odd other passengers rose in uproar, an embarrassed Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, sitting a few seats away, quickly ordered the sky marshal’s arrest.
There were conflicting versions of the incident, with one report saying the 28-year-old National Security Guard commando had handed the woman a note saying he loved her.
He then allegedly made suggestive comments like: “Are you feeling the heat of love'” and “Don’t be afraid of me, I’m also young.”
When the pilots called police, the first reaction of officers on the ground was that it was “a security problem”, said the senior superintendent of police (anti-hijacking), Ghulam Mohammad Dar.
There is always a heavy security presence at Srinagar airport, a prime terror target in a militancy-hit state. Armed sky marshals are posted inside many aircraft operating to and from this sensitive sector to prevent hijacks.
“The plane was ready for take-off. Following the outcry, it was halted, its doors were re-opened and I had to take airport authorities’ permission to enter the plane,” Dar said.
“There was commotion inside the plane. There were shrieks and the girl was weeping. The passengers were so furious that they seemed about to lynch the sky marshal,” Dar added.
“The girl told me the man had been harassing her. We have arrested him.”
The flight took off after an hour’s delay. The woman, who is from Delhi and was flying with her parents, left by the same plane after her statement was recorded.
Azad, however, got off the plane and took a SpiceJet flight to Delhi.
Dar said the chief minister found it “distasteful’’ to travel in the same plane.
“He disembarked from the flight, perhaps to avoid more embarrassment and perhaps because there was a lot of anger inside,” the officer said.
The accused has been charged under Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code and could face up to three months in jail for passing lewd remarks in a public place.