Coming as it did on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Supreme Court’s directive to the Director General of Civil Aviation to ensure that the handicapped are not asked to remove their prosthetic limbs/calipers for security checks underlines the need to recognise the rights of the differently-abled.
Frisking the handicapped became stricter after the Daallo Airlines blast in 2016 in Somalia where a wheel-chair bound passenger is suspected to have carried the bomb that exploded 20 minutes after take-off. However, in the absence of a directive enforcing the rights of the differently-abled, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which handles security at most airports, is, at times, unmindful of the humiliation their insensitivity causes to the flyer.
In fact, the SC’s ruling came on a plea filed by disability rights activist Jeeja Ghosh who was off-loaded by SpiceJet in 2012 while on her way from Kolkata to Goa to attend a conference on disability. The airline off-loaded Ghosh who suffers from cerebral palsy -- a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination -- because there was some blood or froth oozing out from the sides of her mouth, which it said, violated guidelines. Awarding Ghosh damages of Rs 10 lakh in 2016, the SC noted that nobody even cared to speak to her or to call a doctor.
Thanks to the fight put up by disability activists, the civil aviation requirements guidelines were revised in July this year and now the draft guidelines regarding “Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility” have been put in public domain. Disabled passengers can inform the airline about their complete requirement 48 hours before the scheduled departure so that the carrier can make necessary arrangements.
Also, airlines are supposed to ensure that a disability awareness training is conducted for new hires and ensure periodic refreshers are conducted for all staff to reiterate policies and standard operating procedures on customer assistance with different types of disabilities.
Coming back to last week’s ruling, the apex court also said that lifting a person with disability during air travel or security check-up is inhumane and held that it should not be done without the flyer’s consent. The draft guidelines prescribe scanning of prosthetic limbs/calipers through a full body scanner but the SC said that the extent differently-abled persons are required to be checked for the purpose of security should be in a manner where no such person is asked to remove prosthetic limbs/calipers, to maintain human dignity while ensuring the requirement of security checks.
The SC ruling should go a long way in sensitising society to the issue of disability. The 2011 World Report on Disability by the WHO says that 15 per cent of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability. In India, the 2011 census showed that 2.21 per cent of the population was disabled. The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (2006) recognises that such persons are valuable human resource for the country and seeks to create an environment that provides equal opportunities and protection of their rights. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself suggested in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme in 2015, that the term ‘divyang’ meaning ‘divine body’ be used instead of ‘viklang’ or ‘disabled’, for persons with disabilities.
We hail people like the late scientist Stephen Hawking, the nation applauded those who won a record 19 medals, including five golds, for India at the Tokyo Paralympics but we are a long way from recognising and respecting the rights of the differently-abled in day-to-day life. It took ages for the local trains in Mumbai to have a separate compartment for them.
The ramps at several public buildings are not user-friendly. Look at the way dancer/actor Sudha Chandran, whose inspiring story about bouncing back after an amputation to dance on a Jaipur foot is now in school textbooks, was rudely told to remove her prosthetic limb at Mumbai airport in October. The CISF apologised when she dropped a video on her Instagram handle tagging the PM.
It is now up to passengers to ensure that the draft guidelines are enforced. They require airport operators to make special arrangements to facilitate screening of persons with special needs so that the process is carried out efficiently, “keeping the dignity and privacy of the passenger in mind”. During the screening of prosthetics, the airport security might use X-ray, explosive trace detection devices or visual checks according to their requirement, it mentions. The passenger with a prosthetic limb will first pass through the door frame metal detector and should then be taken to a private screening point and made to sit comfortably, it notes. This passenger will then receive additional screening including a pat-down, the draft guidelines say.
Apart from sensitisation, what India needs at the moment is a sound database of disabled persons. Information on their socio-demographic profile is essential for effective welfare measures. Information about their functional status is important to identify needs, since two individuals with the same impairment may face different types of difficulties in undertaking certain activities, and so have different needs that require different kinds of interventions. In an era where ‘inclusive development’ is the buzzword for sustainable development, focused initiatives for the welfare of disabled persons are essential.