On Monday night around 10 pm, chaos broke out on Lawrence Road in Keshav Puram in Delhi, at the home of an Air India cabin crew member. A video of the incident showed two people, including a man with a handkerchief covering his nose and face, yelling at the person taking the video, presumably the Air India employee. The men with the handkerchief masks, it appears, had come to the home of the Air India employee, taken photos of the house, and allegedly harassed the residents because they assumed that the crew member, due to his travel on the flight, could have COVID-19.
The video, tweeted by Economic Times journalist Tarun Shukla, is just one example of the stigma that several airline crew members are facing across India. The novel coronavirus pandemic has sent entire cities into lockdown to contain its spread. However, some service providers apart from doctors – such as flight attendants – had been carrying out their duties until recently to get people home, before international and domestic air travel was barred in India.
However, this has also meant stigma and harassment that many flight attendants and their families are facing from their neighbours because of their travels abroad. In another video, an Indigo flight attendant is seen tearfully explaining how her neighbours are harassing her mother back home, not letting her step out to buy groceries, and shopkeepers are not even selling her groceries over fears that the mother or her daughter might be infected by COVID-19.
Can't believe how people are treating our airline crew. This @IndiGo6E crew is nearly broken from being discriminated & taunted. When she is gone for her flight, her mother is even refused groceries in her society. Police is also not helping. @amitshah #coronavirus #india. pic.twitter.com/yuuTnYhqKq— Tarun Shukla (@shukla_tarun) March 24, 2020
“My rest of the crew are also facing the same problem being part of this industry, where we are being harassed for doing our duties. So please, it’s a request to all of you, to the educated dumb, that we are being checked in and out, and we are safer than you guys. We are taking more precautions in spite of having been to places where many people around us have or may be infected. We know what we are supposed to do. If I am infected, I will go to the hospital myself first rather than doing my job. And obviously, my body will allow me to work, right? So please don’t spread rumours of me having coronavirus,” the woman in the video says.
A person who replied to Tarun’s thread on Twitter pointed out that in her colony, there were seven flats where people were in self-quarantine – all airline employees. “Delivery agents not being allowed to enter the colony, shops within the colony refusing to home deliver. No other option but to venture out and pick up deliveries at the gate,” Twitter user Grace wrote. She also wrote that residents were clicking photos of those who ventured out at the gate, and their landlords were being called up.
Our housing society has 7 flats under self quarantine. All airline employees. Delivery agents not being allowed to enter the colony, shops within the colony refusing to home deliver. No other option but to venture out and pick up deliveries at the gate.— Grace Hangzo (@GraceHangzo) March 24, 2020
Colony WhatsApp group sending pics of a certain such resident at the gate, which has sent the residents in a tizzy. Landlord being called up to rein in his errant tenant.— Grace Hangzo (@GraceHangzo) March 24, 2020
Earlier, a video of an Air India cabin crew named Yaadvi had gone viral on social media saying that many flight attendants were facing similar issues, such as not allowing the cabin crew members’ kids to play with others, telling them, “Your parents are working with airlines, so they will spread the disease.”
“We are responsible towards our society and family – it is unsaid. I don’t want you all to treat us like untouchables, and boycott our families and say that your family member is with aviation so the virus will spread [from them]. It will not spread, because our responsibility is to take care of the passengers, society, and family. Family is important to us, as it is you all. If something goes wrong, we will boycott (isolate) ourselves, and we know very well how to do that. We don’t require you to tell us […]” she says.
The Cabin Crew who are "the invisible heroes" in the fight against #CoronaVirus, are being harassed by housing societies & flat owners. We are not a threat & we do take all kind of precautions onboard our flights. If you can't appreciate us, then atleast don't ostracize us! pic.twitter.com/xKDi9mbJnN— BiTANKO BiSWAS (@Air_India_CREW) March 21, 2020
India Today had also reported earlier that several cabin crew of Air India, which had taken flights to Italy and Wuhan in China among other places to rescue stranded Indians and bring them back home were facing issues. One cabin crew member, for instance, was asked to find alternate accommodation. Another said that health officials had stamped ‘Quarantined’ on her flat in Delhi.
Air India had also taken cognizance of the discrimination that their employees were facing and had released a statement. Highlighting the safety measures taken for the wellbeing of the cabin crew such as protective gear and quarantining those who land from affected countries, Air India said on March 22 that vigilante Resident Welfare Associations and neighbours were ostracising the crew, and even calling the police on them.
“These vigilantes have conveniently forgotten that many a spouse, parent, sibling, child and near and dear ones have been brought home safe and secure from affected countries thanks to the heroic efforts of these Air India crew,” the statement said. It appealed to people and law enforcement to ensure that the crew is treated with courtesy and respect.
Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday said that he had requested authorities to give protection to flight crew members and families, who are facing harassment from their neighbours, news agency PTI reported.