Even at the risk of starting an editorial on a negative note, we will not shy away from saying that the Jeeja Ghosh case will be forgotten sooner rather than later.
It will end up as another footnote in our long list of similar shameful episodes. On February 19, Ms Ghosh, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was on her way to Goa to attend a seminar, when the pilot of the airline (SpiceJet) she was flying on, offloaded her because she was not carrying the ‘Fit to Fly’ certificate. Miss Ghosh, whose condition causes a twitch of her head and speech problems, did not have one. Angry and disgusted with the airline, she fought back and made the staff call her office. But even when her boss assured the airline that Ms Ghosh was fit to fly, it refused. Old habits die hard, no matter how much sound and ire the media creates. Only a couple of days after the SpiceJet incident, Anjlee Agarwal, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, complained of harassment at the hands of Jet Airways personnel. She was asked to sign an indemnity bond even though she had her own personal assistant.
Before these two, there were many others: in September 2011, GoAir prevented a visually challenged woman from getting on a flight. In May 2011, Kingfisher did something similar. But what happened to those cases? A public apology, an internal enquiry and that’s it. Has any airline ever been asked to pay a heavy monetary fine, or been barred from flying on a particular route for sometime or forced to sack the erring officials? These may sound drastic but the State has to hammer home the point that it has a zero-tolerance policy on these issues.
If we go by the rulebook, most airlines would be found to be flouting it. According to the civil aviation laws, “No medical clearance or special forms shall be insisted from persons with disabilities or persons with reduced mobility who only require special assistance at the airport for assistance in embarking/disembarking and a reasonable accommodation in flight, who otherwise do not require any additional assistance.” And, “a ‘Fit to Fly’ certification may be required when the passenger suffers from any contagious disease, the physical condition may affect the flight safety and emergency evacuation procedures may need medical attention, or condition may worsen during the flight.” But Ms Ghosh did not suffer from either.
But then why single out the airlines? Are any public works department officials hauled up for not making foot-overbridges or subways disabled-friendly? Even many of the newest ones have no ramp — an effective structure that can make life easier not only for the differently-abled but also people who use cycles or for senior citizens. The lack of courtesy towards the disabled is just a symptom of a deeper malaise, a mentality that is hardwired to think: if you are not like us, then don’t expect to be treated like us.