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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 April 2024

Passenger on wheelchair with life-long disability asked to standup and walk at Calcutta airport security check

I was exasperated and shouting... I had to use the supporting walls to push the wheelchair on my own to exit from the kiosk. The woman at security did not even say a sorry for her behavior, says Gurgaon resident Arushi Singh, adding that Calcutta is unfriendly to those in wheelchairs

Arnab Ganguly Calcutta Published 01.02.24, 03:17 PM
Arushi Singh while in Singapore in January 2022. The Gurgaon resident with a disability at birth was asked thrice to stand up during the security check-in process at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Calcutta on Wednesday evening.

Arushi Singh while in Singapore in January 2022. The Gurgaon resident with a disability at birth was asked thrice to stand up during the security check-in process at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Calcutta on Wednesday evening. Picture courtesy Arushi Singh

For this passenger in a wheelchair, two minutes inside a kiosk at the Calcutta airport’s domestic terminal security check-in turned traumatic, raising questions again on sensitization of security personnel to the needs of the specially abled.

Gurgaon-resident Arushi Singh, with a disability by birth, was asked thrice to stand up during the security check-in process at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport on Wednesday evening.

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“At the kiosk, this security woman told me, khade hokar do kadam aa jaiye (Stand up and take two steps inside). I told her, 'woh nahin ho sakta (That is not possible)'. She again asked,, 'kya ho gaya (What happened?)'. I had to explain to her that I had a disability by birth,” Arushi said.

“The whole episode lasted barely a minute or two. I was exasperated and shouting while it lasted,” Arushi told The Telegraph Online on Thursday. “I had to use the supporting walls to push the wheelchair on my own to exit from the kiosk. The security personnel did not even say a sorry for her behavior and the wheelchair assistant from the airlines was busy elsewhere.”

Arushi has been flying to Calcutta from Delhi every three to four months for the last one and half years on work-related trips. Her flight to Delhi was scheduled for 7.30 pm. Before entering the terminal building, she had to wait in her personal wheelchair for around 20 minutes as there was no assistant to move her to the one provided by the airlines.

“The security personnel at the gate tried calling the counter but there was no response. After 20 minutes, he himself wheeled me in,” she said.

When she reached the security check-in point, there were no other passengers. And that's where she faced the ordeal. “I have never faced such a situation anywhere else. Usually once I tell them (about my disability at birth), the security personnel never ask again. I don’t know why this woman kept insisting.”

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Arushi said, she was asked thrice to stand up from her wheelchair.

“Does the CISF manual on airport security ask to insult people with disability? This appalling lack of empathy has left me shaken, furious. There have been instances in the past too and shows that Kolkata airport has learnt nothing from the past,” Arushi wrote in her last post.

She clarified that she was referring to delays in getting a wheelchair at the Calcutta airport. “The personal wheelchair I use has to be checked-in and a smaller wheelchair is provided by the airlines. At the Calcutta airport, a call has to be made at the airlines counter for wheelchair assistance. Only on getting the call do they provide the service. There is often a delay in getting the wheelchair,” she said.

Arushi said that she would be writing to the CISF authorities about the incident.

In October 2021, dancer-actor Sudha Chandran had made an emotional post on Instagram where she shared her experience of traveling in Indian airports with a prosthetic limb. She had said the CISF (which manages security at the airports) ask her to remove her “artificial limb” ignoring her requests to go through an explosive trace detector (ETD).

“But, every time that I go on my professional visits, each time, am stopped at the airport and when I request them at the security to the CISF officers that please do an ETD for my artificial limb, they still want me to remove my artificial limb and show it to them,” Chandran said in a video addressed to prime minister Narendra Modi.

On December 1, 2021 a division bench of the Supreme Court, while giving its verdict in the Jeeja Ghosh versus Union of India case, had held that differently abled persons with prosthetic limbs should not be asked to remove the prosthetics at security checks. The court had also observed that lifting a person with disability during air travel or security check-up is inhumane and violates their human dignity and this should be done only with the person’s consent.

A standard operating procedure for screening of passengers with special needs and medical conditions issued on March 28, 2014 states, "if the passenger can stand but cannot walk, he or she can be screened by undergoing a pat-down while he/she stands beside the wheelchair or scooter. If a passenger cannot stand, he/she should be offered a chair for screening and subjected to a pat-down thereafter."

Zulfiquar Hasan, the director-general in the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security said he would inquire into the matter.

Though she will be returning to Calcutta whenever work calls, Arushi finds the city unfriendly with the wheelchair-bound. “I have been to the Park Street area and mostly all the restaurants seem to have one or two steps at the very least. So they are not wheelchair friendly,” Arushi said. “The hotel I said on this trip wasn’t completely accessible either.”

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