Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jeeja Ghosh, a prominent Indian disability right activist discriminated by Spicejet Pilot

Ms. Jeeja Ghosh,
Head -Advocacy and Disabilities Studies,
IICP, Kolkata, India
Dear Friends,

Jeeja Ghosh, a celebrated disability rights activist became a new victim of the discrimination by a pilot of Spice Jet. Shocking, unexpected and very unfortunate incidence for a frequent flier like her!

In the instant case Jeeja was offloaded from a Spice Jet flight from Kolkata to Goa because the Pilot refused to fly with Jeeja onboard since he believed that she was not fit enough to travel on her own and ordered her to be deplaned. 42 year old Jeeja, Head- Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Kolkata, was to fly to Goa on 19 February 2012 to attend a Conference on "Mainstreaming the Differently Abled"  and deliver a lecture on bringing the persons with disabilities into the mainstream! More at link: NDTV Articles; Sunday-Guardian; Times of India etc.

An awareness raising Video was prepared by IICP and is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkNbh2i0tJc&feature=colike 

NDTV covered the news and is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=ACXF8mNPiX4 and another story  available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=gv0ryxjLGWk

Of late, this has become a usual practice for the airlines to mistreat passengers with disability and when one case in hundreds is picked up by media, just issue a public apology. They can't get away like this anymore. If it is against the airliner's policy to discriminate against the passengers with disabilities, stern exemplary action must be taken and duly publicized to regain the trust of the passengers. We find every third day the crews and pilots alerting the security guys for unruly passengers and getting them arrested. Let there be news of arrest / stern disciplinary action against the pilot/crew for unruly behavior/ refusal to fly and any other case of discrimination with the passengers, especially those with disabilities.

As per Section 4 of the DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirement on the Carriage by air of persons with disabilities and those with reduced mobility, which is reproduced below, refusal to fly in the instant case is utterly illegal, arbitrary and without any justification.

"4. Requirements
No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or persons with reduced mobility and their assistive aids/devices, escorts and guide dogs including their presence in the cabin, provided such persons or their representatives, at the time of booking and /or check-in for travel, inform the airlines of their requirement. The airlines shall incorporate appropriate provisions in the online form for booking tickets so that all the required facilities are made available to the passengers with disabilities at the time of check-in."
Similarly, the CAR also makes it mandatory to train the crews every three years on awareness raising about disability issues. However, this doesn't seem to be followed by the airliners in right spirit.

4.4     All airlines and airport management shall run program for their staff engaged in passenger handling e.g. cabin crew / commercial staff including floor walkers and counter staff etc. for sensitization and developing awareness for assisting passengers with disabilities. The training program shall be conducted at the time of initial training and a refresher shall be conducted every 3 years on the subject. Only such persons who have current course shall be assigned to handling disabled persons. The training program should interalia, include assisting disabled persons in filling up travel documents as may be required while providing assistance in flight.

Advice to Spice Jet and other similarly placed airliners

It’s the loss of credibility for the airliner at the end of the day and it is in their interest to be concerned on these alarming trends. Therefore, this is the right time that the airliner not only take stern action against the Pilot for bringing this disrepute to them and for defying settled law with impunity but also take preventive & corrective measures by introducing “Disability Sensitization Training” for the staff including the crews & pilots. This is mandates by the DGCA’s CAR as well a requirement under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities which India has signed and ratified. Please be aware that the training should be by competent professionals/organizations working with Persons with Disabilities and not just by any trainer who may be routinely training the staff on other general issues.

For Other Passengers with disabilities

It will be good for you to know your rights before you fly. A crisp version of what the DGCA’s CAR referred above provides to you has been prepared by our friend Shivani Gupta (AccessAbility) and is available here “Air Travel- Know your Rights”. Read the CAR in detail at “DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirements on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disabilities”.

For Jeeja, and fellow activists

There is a need of sustained effort to combat these rising cases of discrimination in most sectors of public life – be it education and employment or in mobility and transportation – road, rail, sea and air.

In light of suo moto action by the learned Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Mr. Prasanna Pincha, there is no point now to file a writ petition against the Spice Jet as the High Court might reject the petition citing that a court of competent jurisdiction has already issued show cause to Spice Jet. However, nothing stops you from filing detailed Public Interest Litigation citing previous cases also wherein despite sufficient noise around, there was no action taken by the DGCA or the Airliner against the erring crew members or the Pilots. You will find reference to several of such cases in India on this blog at http://dignifiedflyingfordisabled.blogspot.in/. So now look sincerely at the following course of action:  
  • File a PIL in Supreme Court of India to address the systemic issues and seek monitoring of implementation of DGCA's CAR - suggest creating a monitoring committee comprising of DGCA reps, two reps from airliners, two/three reps from disability organizations, one rep from Office of CCPD. Alternatively, all the airliners can be tasked with a monthly reporting to DGCA / CCPD /uploading on respective websites, on the actions taken to implement the CAR and open a feedback window on the website for effective monitoring.
  • File a consumer case for exemplary compensation in the Consumer Disputes Forum citing the mental agony, trauma, harassment, loss of time, leading to non-attendance at the National Consultation on Inclusive Education at Goa etc. for an amount not less than 5 crore.
  • Training and sensitization of staff/crew/pilots has been the most neglected area despite this being mandated by the CAR. Mostly they try to complete this formality by internal training conducted by people who may not every know abc of disability and many of them never conduct such a training! I strongly suggest that this be conducted by disability organizations like IICP-Kolkata, Svayam-Delhi, AADI-Delhi, Vidyasagar-Chennai, ADAPT-Mumbai and several others spread across length and breadth of the nation depending on the regions where training is to be conducted. Standardization of the Course curriculum for training on disability sensitization should also be considered on priority. 
Do it quickly since there is sufficient noise that been created by activists and the supportive media well wishers at this moment. Sustained advocacy and not an adhoc hungama is the answer.

I am pained at what happened and this was very unfortunate and deplorable. You have all our support in this hour and we need to put things across loud and clear to ensure that the guilty pays through his/its nose and this serves as a reminder to the defying airliners about what is in store for them if a similar thing ever happens here on!

regards,

Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate Disability Rights

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