Coronavirus-news May 19, 2020
Disabled student Ankit Agarwal stranded in UK, puts wheelchair on sale to return
Ankit Agarwal, a disabled student studying in the United Kingdom, is desperate to come home. Despite many appeals to Air India and Indian High Commission authorities, Ankit says he has not been promised assistance.
“Anyone willing to buy my wheelchair? Selling it to raise money to buy tickets on an evacuation flight to India and to pay for an aisle wheelchair as airlines are not willing to provide one due to social distancing.”
This desperate appeal from Indian student Ankit Agarwal was posted three days ago on social media. A student at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, Ankit is stranded at Coventry, about 200 kilometres away from London.
Ankit has muscular dystrophy, depends on wheelchair
Ankit came to England in 2018 to pursue a master’s degree in Business Analytics. He has muscular dystrophy and cannot walk on his own. He is totally dependent on his electric wheelchair that he bought a few years ago. But desperate to return home to Ahmedabad, he has put his wheelchair up for sale.
Speaking to the media Ankit said, “I do not know how I will manage things without a wheelchair, but the situation is so bad, that it has forced me to take a measure like this. I was told that I could take a wheelchair only until the testing kiosk and that the airport will not provide one to transport me to the aircraft”.
Time is running out for Ankit. His visa will expire on 31 May. Even though he and his mother registered for the Vande Bharat Mission early on, they are still waiting.
“Despite being a disabled individual, my name wasn’t there on the High Commission’s first list of passengers. However, my mother made it to the list. I had asked the authorities to reconsider and make arrangements for us to travel together,” says Ankit.
Many appeals made to Indian officials
Air India and the Indian High Commission have also failed to assure Ankit of help at Heathrow Airport, London at the time of boarding. After multiple tweets, he finally managed a response from Air India but was told that he would not be given an aisle wheelchair or help due to social distancing norms.
Speaking to Mumbai Mirror, Ankit said “I told him that I have my wheelchair that I can take to the gate of the plane and then I will need to be shifted to an aisle wheelchair to reach my seat and then someone will need to help me shift to my seat”. To this the response was that Ankit’s 50-year-old mother would have to lift him!
Ankit says this is a clear case of discrimination and that his fundamental rights are being violated. What is also frustrating him is the lack of any clear answers. “They won’t say yes or no. I am worried that if I land up at the airport, they might refuse to take me”.
Ankit is also worried about whether he will be given an aisle wheelchair when he lands in Ahmedabad. His ordeal doesn’t just end there. There is also the worry about whether quarantine centres in his hometown are disabled-friendly.