Time to claim our rights!


Patricia Mukhim

How many times have we been subjected to the most humiliating experiences at airports in India? And I am stressing India here because as an avid traveller I have been through some of the countries with the toughest security regimes but none of them are intended to humiliate the passenger; only to ensure that everyone on board the flight is secure. Travelling in India is a hellish experience for those who are too afraid to ask questions; those who rest in the false belief that they cannot talk back especially to a security personnel.  But unless passengers learn to define boundaries for themselves we will be nudged and pushed and bundled off like caged animals. I am not saying that we should obstruct security personnel from performing their duties.  Not at all!  As law abiding citizens we should facilitate a smooth security check. But it works both ways!

Let me narrate a recent experience. We normally show our ID (PAN Card, EPIC, Passport) at the entry in to the airport to CISF personnel. They look us up and down, compare our faces to our pictures. Half of the time they don't match because we age or because we haven't slept the whole night and look like hell while catching an early morning flight and/or our pictures were airbrushed but our real faces are not. Anyway, the CISF acts on his hunches and perhaps looks at the mole on our photos and back at our faces and decides we are not impostors. So he lets us in.

Then we rush to the check in counter where we are again asked to produce either of those same set of IDs. We do that as a matter of routine and can even smile at the person behind the desk. After all she is doing her duty. So we get a boarding pass and rush off to join the long queue of air passengers many of whom cut their travel time very fine and try and nudge you out of the queue. It takes a while to get your stuff on the security trays and then go for your personal security check in one of those cubicles. Ladies are checked by lady CISF personnel because they literally feel you all over including some sacred parts.  So you put your boarding pass on their untidy little counter and allow yourself to be touched and felt. Nowadays many don't use the metal detector for reasons unknown. Having done that you expect the CISF lady to put her stamp in the boarding pass!  But she decides to ask you your name. Nam kya hain? The passenger says, " Naam likha huwa hain (Name is written on the boarding pass)." CISF says, " Nahin aap ko naam batana hoga. Kya pata aap kisi aur ke boarding pass me sawari kar rahi hain (No you have to tell me your name. Who knows you might be travelling in someone else's name). Passenger gets angrier by the minute: " Main kyo kisi aur ki boarding pass utha ke layenge? (Why should I carry someone else's boarding pass). CISF: "Kya pata aap apna husband ka boarding pass laye honge bhul se. Main toh duty kar rahi hoon na (who knows you might have brought your husband's boarding pass by mistake. I am only doing my duty). This altercation goes on for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile the passengers waiting outside the cubicle wonder what grave security threat the passenger before them is posing. They are in a hurry and almost scream with frustration;  they need to board the flight now!  Finally the passenger wins the battle of nerves and leaves the CISF personnel a little frayed at the nerves.

Now the point is that CISF personnel should be trained to get their work done in the shortest possible time and without any compromise on security. But when they begin to encroach on other matters and strike a conversation with the passengers then they are exceeding their brief. Of course there are passengers and there are passengers. Hijacking of passenger aircrafts is a real issue that governments across the globe are grappling with.  But they get past that by strengthening their security mechanisms. Human resource is as well trained, have an air of competence about them and know their jobs. They would also know how to get a stubborn passenger to comply without appearing officious.  That's the difference between security in India and that of the US or UK. You admire competence when you see it. There have been many occasions when I have written a good remark in the CISF diary at the airport when I have been impressed by the competent nature of a security personnel.  It warms the cockles, but, it is so rare. Most times the CISF personnel look like they got out of the wrong side of the bed. They are grumpy and well fed. That hinders their efficiency quotient.

These are some of the issues that the CISF should be working at and a feedback from passengers is important. Alas, the Indian passenger is a noisy, irate character but will never put anything down in writing. And that's why we continue to keep up with inefficiencies in our security systems and something like Pathankot happened.

Next time we take a flight we should know our rights and claim them graciously. But if we don't get respect then we should not hesitate to throw our weights around. It's not just about security…it's about our dignity as well! The body check cubicle is not about ascertaining your identity. It has been done twice over. It's about ensuring you are not a potential suicide bomber! Most of us aren't. So instead of obsessing with our boarding passes, the security personnel should make sure they find every prohibited article that we are not meant to carry on board the flight.