Few weeks ago, I had gone to Hyderabad, India for some official work. My transit was at New Delhi while I was flying to Kathmandu after a week of stay there. I had to leave for Delhi in a flight of Jet Airways from Hyderabad. I reached the airport on time, checked in and the safety check was done. The airlines staffs did help me with all this. I was sitting on my wheelchair this whole time and when I had to move to the plane, the staff who was checking the boarding passes asked me, “This wheel chair cannot go all the way to your seat, what shall be done?”
I was aware of this and so I had already asked the staff at the counter that I will need a small wheelchair (aile-chair) while boarding and he had told me that it will be arranged. And so I told the boarding staff that I had earlier requested for a small aile-chair while checking in. Then he called someone and after a while he told me that there is no such wheelchairs at that airport and so I will be carried by some staffs to my seat. I lost my temper because it was only a few days ago when I was here at the same airport and had used the aile-chair to reach my seat. I told him the same but he did not even want to listen to me and said, “We are too late and we need to move now. We will carry you comfortably. Please be patient.”
I had to get into the bus to reach the plane. There were three tall stairs at the door of the bus. I asked them, “what do we do now?” and one of the staffs said, “sir, please walk a little.” I was irritated at this and said, “Why would I use a wheelchair if I could walk?” None of them said anything. Then the three people tried to carry me along with my wheelchair to get me inside the bus. I was not at all comfortable with the way I was being carried but there was nothing I could do. I got into the bus with such difficulty and the same was repeated while getting off the bus.
Now I had a huge airplane in front of me and seven stairs to climb at the door. The journey of those seven stairs would not be less difficult for me than climbing the Mt. Everest. I felt uneasy and asked a staff nearby me, “Now how do I get in?” Those staffs themselves were confused and one of them asked me, “Sir, can’t you walk even a little?” I did not say anything but looked at him with my irritated eyes.
They called some of other staffs and decided to carry me along with my wheelchair to my seat. I was against it and said, “Where is the lift which is used to board the passengers using the wheelchairs? There is such a lift at the airport in Kathmandu, don’t you have one here?” They looked at each other and one of them said, “We do have that lift sir, but nobody had informed us that we will need to use it. And it is late now.”
And then the four people lifted my wheelchair and started to climb the stairs. All the parts of my wheelchair can be separated and that is why I had asked them not to lift it as it might be risky but they didn’t agree. The same thing happened which I was afraid of. The front wheel of the wheelchair got off from its place when we were at the halfway and the chair started to fall back. Luckily, the people holding the chair from back held it tightly and I didn’t fall back on the ground. I was very angry at that and we were on the ground again. I said to them, “I don’t want to travel on this plane, return me my money.” A ground staff had reached there till then. He scolded those staffs saying, “Why did you bring him from here instead of using the aile-chair?” I was very frustrated at those staffs’ ignorance as they had earlier told me that they did not have an aile-chair there and now the ground staff was saying that they could have brought me using one. “You will have to give answers to this, just let me reach Delhi once”, I said to the ground staff. He apologized to me.
After that they somehow lifted by wheelchair and took me to the back of the plane. The next challenge was to reach my seat from there. They had earlier ignored my request to bring a small wheelchair and my wheelchair could not fit inside the plane and so the only way for me to reach my seat was to lift and carry me to the seat. I did not want to be carried but I did not have any other option. Then the three people lifted some part of my body while most of the part was hanging on the air and took me to my seat. It was very difficult for me. They had carried me like a sack of potatoes. All the other passengers were staring at me. I was uncomfortable. My clothes too had become messy. I was feeling embarrassed. Then I told all of those staffs including the air-hostess, “I will tell the world about this incident once I reach my country.” All of them apologized to me but I was not convinced at all. My eyes were filled with tears.
Special arrangements had been made when I reached Delhi. Two staffs along with a wheelchair arrived at my seat right after we landed. Another staff of Jet Airways too came smiling behind them and said, “we are very sorry for the inconvenience you had to face at the the airport in Hyderabad.” “I wish to meet the head of Jet Airways present at this airport,” I said to her without replying to her apology. She did not deny and took me to Jet Airways’ office in New Delhi and met the Airport Manager. I told him about what happened in Hyderabad and asked him what is the meaning of people carrying me with half of my body hanging, giving troubles and making me feel embarrassed even when there was an aile-chair available at the airport. He felt embarrassed after listening to me and I could see that he too was hurt to hear all about it. I also asked him if the people with disabilities fly on their airways for free so that they behave in such a manner with them. At last I warned him that I will tell about it everywhere and also take a legal action against them. He apologized to me very politely and committed to call the manager at Hyderabad airport himself and make him apologize as well.
I came to Kathmandu then. A good arrangement had been already made at the airport in Kathmandu for me and many staffs were kept there for me. The manager from Hyderabad airport called and apologized to me the next day. He told me that the action has been taken against the staffs who were irresponsible and promised that such incident will never repeat in future. I asked him to write all the things he said and email it to me and he did the same. “This is not only about me but about all the people with disabilities and such ignorance and behavior they have to face. So I demand to receive a commitment from the senior-most person at the Jet Airways management, not only an apology from a manager of a particular airport or else this issue will be taken to the court, Nepalese and Indian government and to the international human right organizations as well.” I replied to the email.
After around two days, I received a call from the Vice Chairman of Jet Airways from Delhi and he talked to me for 15 minutes. He explained to me that Jet Airways does not have any policy of doing any injustice or miss-behavior with the people with disabilities. He apologized to me and told me that a letter have been sent to all the managers at all the regional airports to command them that extra care and attention needs to be given to all the people with disabilities. I later received a copy of that email sent to the team on my email account as well.
And this way after a senior officer assured me that no such incidents will be ever repeated, the anger and dissatisfaction of my heart vanished. I felt like I got a victory in a war as from now no person with disability, whether native or foreigner, will ever have to face such incident and will travel comfortably because I chose to speak up. It is indeed true that suffering from injustice is equal to committing it as it gives culprits more encouragement to do so. I am proud that I chose not to suffer from the injustice and became victorious against the war against discrimination and inequality.
(Translated By Neeraj Pun)
(See Also: The Secret of Happiness!)