Shooting prodigy Manu Bhaker claims that she was harassed by Air India officials at the IGI airport in Delhi. Patriot spoke to both parties to find out what exactly happened
With just days to go for the shooting World Cup in Delhi, wherein the top shooters in the world compete for a place in the Olympics, Indian shooting is faced with one of the biggest controversies of recent times involving 19-year old Manu Bhaker, one of the hottest young prospects in the Indian sport. Bhaker has a total of 13 gold medals to her name at a young age, including a gold at the 2016 Commonwealth Games
Bhaker was travelling to Bhopal from Delhi for a training camp prior to the world cup for preparations. However, she claims that she was being harassed and mistreated and by Air India officials. She was carrying her arms and ammunition aboard the flight, namely two pistols and 1.3 kgs of ammunition. These were pistols she uses for hitting the targets.
It was these arms and ammunition that became the cause for her concern.
“On 19th (February) I was travelling to Bhopal with my mother, to a training camp. Despite having all the documents, the officials mistreated us, making us look like criminals trying to board a flight and bypass rules”, says Bhaker
She claims that she was carrying a clearance from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for travelling with her weapons and ammunition. “Initially they did not accept the DGCA letter, and asked me to furnish one from the National Rifle Association of India. I arranged for it on mail and was allowed to check-in”, she claims
But while boarding flight AI 437, she and her mother were refused to do so, citing that they do not have enough permission to carry the extra luggage. Bhaker claims that she was asked for Rs 10,200 as charge for the extra luggage they were carrying, by an official named Manoj Gupta.
She says that she and her mother were carrying luggage weighing 42.5 kg, much lower than the permissible limit of 64 kgs for two people (32 kg per ticket, according to the DGCA post covid rules).
She claims that Gupta was trying to constantly ask for the money, which she claims was a ‘bribe’. She claims that he kept saying that there was no stamp on the DGCA permit for her guns, and hence she would have to pay for it. “On his instructions, Air India security also snatched my phone and deleted all the videos that were made of the harassment”.
She tweeted out about this ordeal, claiming that she was being treated like a criminal, and even tagged Sports minister Kiren Rijiju and aviation minister Hardeep Puri. Rijiju responded, and she was finally on board another flight to Bhopal.
“Not just as a sportsperson, but even as a human I expected to be treated with a little dignity,” says Manu Bhaker, India’s Tokyo Olympics medal prospect.
Air India rubbishes claims
Air India has rebutted claims by the pistol ace Manu Bhaker that employees of the national carrier ‘harassed’ or ‘insulted’ her at Delhi airport .
“The claims made by her are completely untrue”, says an official at Air India, on the condition of anonymity. “We have checked with our officials at the Delhi airport and whatever we asked from her was completely justified.
“She wasn’t carrying the required documents, and that’s what we wanted from her. The money we asked for was just what we charge to carry proper licensed firearms on flight”, the official goes on to claim.
“We even have the CCTV footage from the IGI airport and we can prove that her claims against our officials were completely false”, adds the official.
The 19-year-old Olympics shooter has made a sensational charge against Air India, saying that employees of the national airline treated her “like a criminal” for carrying guns on board the aircraft.
“Our Delhi Airport team has confirmed that the official at our counter had only sought valid documents as per rules for the carriage of your weapon on board. In absence of the same, legitimate specified charges for the arms were conveyed to you”, tweeted out the official Air India handle on Twitter in reply to Bhaker’s tweet.
The airline further added that no one sought a ‘bribe’ and that “you were issued boarding passes on your assurance of furnishing valid documents before boarding. Immediately after the official valid documents were shown by you at the boarding point, you were allowed to board”.
Air India also tendered an official apology and added that the airline has always encouraged and respected sportspersons. Incidentally even sporting icons like Dhanraj Pillai and Jhulan Goswami have tweeted out in support of the airlines.