The recent Air India case has once again brought to the fore the conversation around the behaviour of male Indian flyers. On an Air India flight from New York to Delhi, a drunk Indian man allegedly urinated on a female co-passenger last year in November.
“I was operating a Go First flight from Abu Dhabi to Kannur. During the boarding, the crew noticed a passenger who was a little intoxicated. We thought he would fall asleep once he gets to his seat but he sat on someone else’s seat. So we asked him to sit in the second last row in the window seat. While I was helping another passenger, he said to me, ‘baby come here’ and then he tried coming towards me by jumping from the window seat to the aisle. I tried to stop him but my hand got stuck in the armrest.“Priyanka Singh (name changed), Air Hostess
According to NDTV, the man reportedly unzipped and urinated on a co-passenger who was over 70-years-old. Both the passengers were flying in a business class of the airline. This and many more such incidents definitely brings a clear picture of class and gender divide. In a society where men experience superiority over other genders, the rage of males in the airlines might be stemming from the patriarchal nature of our society.
This incident is not an isolated one. Another video of an argument between a male passenger and a female crew went viral on social media. It was on an Indigo flight from Delhi to Istanbul on 16th December, the female cabin crew was seen arguing with an onboard male passenger over his choice of meal.
While she was trying to explain to the passenger that she can’t yell at her colleague, the man called the crew ‘a servant of the passengers’. This clearly shows the mentality of most people in India. The crew obviously responded by saying, she is not his servant but an employee. It was probably some educated man flying in the airline exhibiting his worst attitude without even bothering how wrong it is! This is what comes out of a society so rigidly dominated by fossilised systems of caste and patriarchy.
“I fly frequently from Delhi to London at night. I never sleep on night flights anymore because 5 years ago, an older man from my country put his hand on my thigh when I was asleep. I am a light sleeper so I got away. But many women end up suffering at the hands of men like this.”Nikita Gill
Why are certain jobs or professions placed above others? It’s high time we start respecting every job, be it an air hostess, a subway worker, or a corporate employee, irrespective of their class, caste and gender.
Indian customers, especially men, think that if they have brought the plane ticket, they own the entire plane. They assume that they can behave as they want and treat the employees badly. This behaviour of Indian men is certainly not new.
Priya Singh (name changed), a flight attendant with Go First shared her experience to FII, she stated, “I was operating a Go First flight from Abu Dhabi to Kannur. During the boarding, the crew noticed a passenger who was a little intoxicated. We thought he would fall asleep once he gets to his seat but he sat on someone else’s seat. So we asked him to sit in the second last row in the window seat. While I was helping another passenger, he said to me, ‘baby come here’ and then he tried coming towards me by jumping from the window seat to the aisle. I tried to stop him but my hand got stuck in the armrest.“
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“We gave him a warning but he continued giving flying kisses and then my senior crew tried telling him nicely to stop. But he was punching on the seat and the window. For crew and aircraft safety, my senior crew after taking pilot’s permission offloaded him with the help of police. However, what was shocking to all of us was when the flight landed, my senior got an email that the flight was delayed by 7 mins due to the cabin crew and my senior was grounded for 3-5 days for not filing one paper and nothing really happened to the customer,” she adds.
It’s not only Indian men who treat the female crew like an object but it’s Indian airlines also who have had a long history of sexualising and objectifying air hostesses. Air hostesses were advertised in a way giving the wrong message like if you buy plane tickets, you get the right to stare at women.
There are so many restrictions as to who can even apply for an air hostess job – thin, young and often fair with perfect skin and looks. The airlines also have strict rules about make-up and hair. The crew can be fired or grounded from her job if she is not wearing enough make-up or wearing glasses or has chipped nail polish. It’s time the Indian airlines also need to take some steps towards their abrupt rules and the rules that are not even related to the job.
Not only female crew but even the female passengers feel unsafe travelling with Indian men.
In a social media post by ‘Vitamin Stree’, many women came up with their experiences on aircrafts.
Nikita Gill mentioned that, “I fly frequently from Delhi to London at night. I never sleep on night flights anymore because 5 years ago, an older man from my country put his hand on my thigh when I was asleep. I am a light sleeper so I got away. But many women end up suffering at the hands of men like this.”
Another female flyer Upasana Sharma shared, “On my Emirates flight from Dubai to Delhi, a man asked me to sit in the middle seat, though I had booked and paid for an aisle seat..”
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She added, “When I said no, he said aap ladies ho aap andar baith jao (because you are a woman, you sit inside). When I continued to refuse, he said once I am drunk don’t blame me if I am in the middle seat. The crew didn’t understand what was happening as he said all of this in Hindi.”
This is not the first time a male passenger has behaved in such a horrendous way but these incidents are apparently, extremely, very common.
Male Indian flyers made news in 2017, when actress Zaria Wasim, then 17-year-old, said that she was molested by a “middle-aged” man on a Delhi-Mumbai flight. She shared a video on instagram where she stated that the men kept touching her inappropriately with his foot.
From casual sexism to sexual harassment, both female crew and female passengers will continue to experience this behaviour if major steps are not taken. There should be severe punishment other than just merely putting a one month fly ban for this kind of horrifying behaviour.
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The airlines need to introduce policies that strictly punish these people. Let’s not continue to normalise this type of behaviour by Indian men. Airlines should also move beyond the ‘customer is the king’ idea as molestation, be it by the customer or the employee, is a punishable offence. If Indian airlines continue to normalise molestation, these kinds of incidents will never stop.
The unsupportive management attitude, insincerity about addressing safety issues, the fear of being blamed or found legally liable discourages people from even reporting these kinds of incidents. Hence the lack of data available on sexual harassment cases while flying.
The male behaviour in Indian airlines is obviously not a generalisation. Every Indian man is not at fault, but these kind of incidents just makes women feel unsafe while travelling around Indian men.
Names have been changed due to privacy concerns.
Indian men stare at women like they have never seen a woman before. After I got married, men would stare at my wife knowing that I was looking right at them. How shameless!
Off-topic, in the Shraddha Walker case, I recently found out that Aftab Poonawala is a Zoroastrian (Parsi), not Muslim.
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