Why is travelling so much harder for the differently abled in India than it is in Western airports?
The unpleasant experience of an amputee who felt humiliated by security at an airport in Mumbai when she was asked to take off her artificial leg,reported last week,is touching off ripples only because she protested. Usually,travellers with special needs who face similar situations grit their teeth and carry on. But now that attention has been drawn to this sorry episode,we should be asking why travelling is so much harder for the differently abled in India than it is in Western airports,which are infamously paranoid about security. Perhaps it is not a question of security at all,but of civility and sensitivity.
Airport security is handled by personnel of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). Passenger experiences with them are on a scale ranging from very good to very bad. But the very bad is sometimes absolutely insensitive and unacceptable. Processing air travellers and guarding fertiliser factories and hydel projects require different skills,and some CISF personnel posted at airports may be in need of sensitisation. At least,they should be taught to be context-aware,instead of blindly going by the book. To appreciate,for instance,that passengers who are not able bodied,who are elderly or travelling with children in other words,people with special needs will require special treatment.
Security officials do face routine exasperations like passengers who try to board with banned goods batteries and matches,ceremonial swords,souvenir bows and arrows,joint family-size jars of pickle. But it is their job to deal with the uproar of the airport,calmly and politely. An incident like the one that has now sparked off a debate brings opprobrium upon the whole security apparatus.