MUMBAI: A teenage actor, Zaira Wasim, traveling business class with her mother on a late-night flight from Delhi to Mumbai on Saturday was allegedly harassed by a frequent flyer when the cabin lights were dimmed in preparation for landing. The passenger has been identified as Vikas Sachdeva, 39, a senior executive with a Mumbai-based entertainment company.
Sachdeva was seated right behind the complainant. He allegedly put his foot on the arm-rest of her window seat and stroked her neck and back. After the actor narrated her ordeal on social media, the Sahar police tracked down the accused and detained him on Sunday evening.
He was later arrested and will be produced in court on Monday, a police source said. The police believe the harassment of a teenage film actor on a Delhi-Mumbai flight was a deliberate act, though the accused claimed that he was tired and may have accidentally touched the girl. “She warned him not to touch her, but he continued nevertheless,” a police officer said.
After the flight landed around midnight, the accused walked off unquestioned. The actor then uploaded the story, shot at Mumbai airport, on Instagram. “He kept nudging my shoulder and continued to move his foot up and down my back and neck,” said the visibly shaken actor in her post. She alleged that the flight crew did not take any action against the passenger, though she raised an alarm by screaming at him. By Sunday morning, the video had gone viral and voices of anger, shock and protest on social media hit out at the airline and the authorities concerned for apathy. The National Commission for Women and the Maharashtra State Commission for Women took up the case with civil aviation authorities, questioning airline and police inaction.
By noon, the Sahar police met the actor at her hotel. “After two hours of convincing, she gave a statement, on the basis of which an FIR was registered against an unknown person under the IPC and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act,” a police officer said.
“The police are now quizzing independent witnesses such as co-passengers, besides cabin crew,” an official said. The flight officials said in a statement it has submitted an initial incident report to the DGCA, and details to the police.
Aviation sources said Sachdeva, a corporate traveller, told crew upon boarding the flight that he wanted to sleep and should not be disturbed for meals and such. When the flight was descending to land, the actor screamed at the man. “From their jump seats the crew asked the actor what had happened. She continued screaming at the man in seat 2F,” said a source. After the plane landed around midnight, the crew inquired with her, but she deplaned, crying. Later, the crew in-charge looked for the actor and spotted her mother in the arrival hall.
“The crew asked the mother whether she would want to file a case against the passenger, to which she said no,” the source said. “The actor and her mother left the airport after collecting their check-in bags.”
A senior DGCA official said, “What we will ascertain is whether the crew acted as it is supposed to when such a complaint is made or not. If the girl had complained to the crew, why was the person against whom the complaint was made allowed to leave? When a passenger complains inside aircraft about some issue, it is the airline’s responsibility to take required action. These are the issues we will examine.”
The incident has brought focus to some pertinent questions on sexual harassment on flights, including that if a victim decides to not file a case, should the airline crew let off the accused? Last month, Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, said in an FB post that she was harassed by a business class co-passenger and despite bringing it to the notice of flight attendants of Alaska Airlines they shrugged off her complaint.