Disability Rights Alliance


Thursday, 6 October 2005

2005, Ahed Prithviraj

Is autism a threat at airport?

For a country with an estimated 1.7 million autistic people, we are probably the most insensitive bunch of people. On Thursday, eleven-year-old Ahed was denied entry into the airport. Reason: he is autistic. 

Ahed and his parents, Tamil actor Prithviraj and his wife Beena, were stoppedat the security gate of the Bangalore airport. CISF inspector Bhavesh Kumar told them that Ahed could not board the Air Deccan flight to Chennai because he looked different.

Furious at this insinuation, Prithviraj asked the officer to explain the rules under which he was stopping his son. "The officer merely replied that there are rules, but could not quote any. He kept saying my son could be a threat to other passengers," Prithviraj told the Hindustan Times.

"I started filming the argument and he kept blocking the camera lens. We had to argue for 30 minutes before the officer relented," Prithivraj said.

While his parents fought back vehemently, little Ahed kissed his mother repeatedly. Beena interpreted it as his way of saying, "It is all right. Don't worry."

This is not the first time Prithviraj has had to deal with such insensitive remarks about his son. An official at the Delhi airport once asked Prithviraj if his son was mad and the actor shot back: "You seem to be mad."

"We have never encountered such problems in Europe or other Asian countries," recalled Ahed's mother Bheena who runs a school for autistic children.

So has Prithviraj ever tried shoving a medical certificate at such ignorant officials? The actor said he once tried to get an autism certificate for his son from a medical authority in Delhi. "But autism has not been classified as a disability under the Disability Act. The authorities asked me if I could accept a certificate that labeled him mentally retarded," Prithviraj said.

The CISF, however, defended its official. And while doing so, its spokesman only betrayed his level of ignorance. He said the CISF officer was only following rules since international civil aviation rules do not permit a “mentally retarded person abroad an aircraft”.


At airports, autism too is a threat!

Chennai: In an incident that reflects on the utter insensitivity of security agencies manning India's airports, security staff in Bangalore Airport recently tried to stop an autistic child from boarding a plane, branding him a threat to other passengers.

This is a story sent to CNN-IBN by Tamil film actor Prithvi Raj, whose son was at the receiving end of this misdemeanour of airport security.

Says Prithvi Raj, who turned Citizen Journalist for CNN-IBN, "Our struggle is to integrate my son into the main stream society. We don't want special privilleges, but please do not treat him miserably."

The reason Prithvi Raj is angry is because he and his wife were told by the airport security in Bangalore that their autistic son Ahed, 'cannot board the flight to Chennai'.

When they asked why, this is how the security staff reacted:

Prithvi Raj: "Why can my son not board the flight?"

Security Officer: "You cannot shoot here with your camera."

Prithvi Raj: "Why can my son not go? Tell me why?"

Security Officer: "Because he's mentally Ill. That's why."

Prithvi Raj caught it all on camera.

"When my wife asked them they said, 'Aapka beta flight mein jayega aur baki passenger ko danger karega' (your son will be a danger to other passengers on the flight). Please, I understand we don't permit a toothpaste on a flight, but for God's sake, don't treat an 11-year-old like a terrorist," says Prithvi Raj.

The name of the officer who told this to Prithvi Raj is Bhavesh Kumar and Prithvi Raj had to argue with him for over half an hour before he could finally get Ahed on board their flight to Chennai.

The couple have had to endure such behaviour at other airports in the past, but it was as never this severe. They finally decided that enough was enough.

'It's happened to me in Delhi a couple of times and in other places. They ask me, 'Aapka beta pagal hai? (Is your son mad?), and I ask them 'Aap pagal hai? (Are you mad?). Is this the way you ask someone. And then they keep gesturing to each other, saying that my son is mad," says Prithvi Raj.

Says his wife Beena, "Ahed gets vibes when we are upset about something and after all that, he kept kissing me on my cheek as if to tell me, 'Mama it's okay'."

The question is here, how can people not be nice to a child like Ahed? The parents don't want venegance, they don't want suspensions or dismissals. All they are asking for is a concentrated effort to sensitise the society about the beauty of a differently-abled child.


Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or pointing instead of words.

Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language.
Laughing or crying for no apparent reason or showing distress for reasons not apparent to others.
Preference to being alone.
Little or no eye contact.
Unresponsive to normal teaching methods.
Obsessive attachment to objects.
Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain.
No real fears of danger.
Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity.
Non-responsive to verbal cues, acting as if deaf, although hearing tests in normal range.


Autism is a bit of a difficult disability to detect as it is a hidden disability of sorts.

Autistic children have a fascination with language, but they may be unresponsive towards normal teaching methods.

It is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects the normal functioning of the brain. It leads to difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication and social interactions.

(With inputs from Vibha Sachdev in New Delhi)