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Filmmaker Rustom Irani suffers serious injuries at the hands of insensitive Jet Airways staff, airline apologises

For filmmaker Rustom Irani, being in a wheelchair has never been a barrier to pursuing his many interests, travel being one of them. Not even the insensitivity and harassment disabled travellers seem to routinely encounter in Indian airports, has discouraged him from exploring new adventures.

However, his experience at Nagpur airport a day ago has left him shaken. While flying by Jet Airways from Nagpur to Mumbai, he was treated so roughly that he needed to be taken to hospital. He has been advised bed rest for an indefinite period.

This is despite Irani informing Jet authorities in advance that as a wheelchair user, he required the assistance of four people. Yet, he faced problems on many fronts. For starters, he was assigned a seat at the back of a plane, that too after his place was changed twice. Jet officials also refused to board his electronic wheelchair at first.

They said only 30kgs or more heavy chairs were allowed and then realised their folly. There were just three people to assist me while boarding and other passengers were asked to board while I was still getting on. While being transferred to my seat, my right leg was not moved and got caught in the onboard wheelchair as my body was transferred to the seat. - Rustom Irani, Chief Creative, Monie Plant Productions

Irani says he felt "three snapping sensations around his knee" and "excruciating pain, with the leg still caught." His leg was forcefully pushed out and shoved under the seat. Upon landing in Mumbai, the airport doctor was called. "The doctor suspected multiple ligament tears, my pant leg was torn off, and I was injected with a powerful painkiller. He advised immediate hospital emergency treatment and diagnosis but no Jet representative accompanied me," says Irani.

His injuries are so severe that he has been advised to stay immobile, putting his impending journey to London in serious doubt.

Irani's tweet, when shared by disability rights leader Dr Satendra Singh elicited this response from Jet Airways -

"We sincerely regret the incident and are in touch with our Ground Services teams for a detailed review. We are already in touch with the guest and will connect with him post the review."

As part of the Accessible India Campaign, the flagship national programme to make public buildings and transport barrier free for people with disabilities, sensitization programmes have been conducted among airport staff regarding needs of disabled passengers, but much of the message seems to have been lost down the wire.

Barring a few exceptions, airport travel remains an intimidating prospect for people with disabilities, says Shama Noorani, a disability rights activist, who works with Enable Travels.

"Either they break our chairs, or manhandle us while onloading and off-loading. By the end of every flight journey, my body is filled with aches and pains. The CISF has handheld testers, but they don't use them everywhere. So many people don't travel by air for this very reason."

Noorani has even designed a transfer sling with six belts so that she can be lifted and carried with the sling instead of bodily. "Just because we don't have movement and sensation in our legs does not mean you can push us around", she says.

Clearly, sensitization has to be more than just lip service and more importantly, it has be an ongoing effort involving people who are at the receiving end of this kind of treatment.

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