On Saturday, a top executive of U.S. bank firm Wells Fargo was arrested by Indian authorities in connection with an incident that occurred in late November when the executive reportedly urinated on an elderly woman while flying business class from New York to New Delhi.
Wells Fargo India Vice President Shankar Mishra, 34, is being prosecuted for sexual harassment, obscenity, misconduct in public by a drunken person, and insulting a woman’s modesty, among other offenses, under Indian law.
According to local reports, Mishra has been sentenced to 14 days in prison while authorities investigate an allegation made against him aboard an Air India flight last November. If found guilty, he will face up to three years in prison.
The 72-year-old woman, whose identity was not revealed by authorities, filed the complaint, claiming that Mishra was drunk for the duration of the trip and stating that he “continued standing there until the person sitting next to me tapped him and told him to go back to his seat.”
In addition, she said that Air India personnel “were not proactive in managing a very sensitive and traumatic situation.”
She was “stunned” when Mishra was forced by the airline staff to apologize to her and pleaded not to be arrested.
According to the complaint, Mishra began crying and apologizing profusely.
The elderly woman demanded Mishra’s immediate arrest upon landing in a letter to Air India’s chair dated November 27, the day after the flight landed in New Delhi, New York Times reported.
“In my already distraught state, I was further disoriented by being made to confront and negotiate with the perpetrator of the horrific incident at close quarters,” she wrote in the letter.
Mishra’s seatmate during the flight, Dr. Bhattacharjee, a US-based doctor of audiology, told NDTV that Mishra had been drinking heavily. Despite his report, nobody cut off his access to alcohol.
“We were served lunch about an hour after take-off and he had downed four drinks in 40 minutes,” said Dr. Bhattacharjee. During lunch, “he asked me questions like you have kid and what do they do, repeatedly. I figured he can’t hold up due to alcohol. I flagged it to the staff – the staff just smiled,” Dr. Bhattacharjee added.
There was “fault at multiple levels” in the handling of the incident, added Dr Bhattacharjee, who had filed a complaint about the matter the same day, November 26.
“My two-page complaint — it was just tossed off… No one would have known about this if the media didn’t take it up… My complaint was not about the drunk passenger. It was on poor judgement by the pilot over the incident,” he said.
Dr Bhattacharjee said he did not witness the man urinating on the elderly woman passenger and woke only when Mishra returned to his seat.
The woman, who was completely drenched in urine, was given pajamas by the crew and was left standing at the galley for around 20 minutes. After that, the cabin crew made her sit on the same seat, after piling some blankets on it. “I advocated that they give her another seat. I said ‘aapka char seat khali hai (Your four seats are empty)’. And they won’t budge,” Dr Bhattacharjee said.
“The staff said it was the pilot’s decision,” Dr Bhattacharjee said. That decision came two hours later and she was given a fresh seat.
The crew also left the two passengers to settle the matter, which should not have happened, Dr Bhattacharjee said. Asked if the woman was coerced into having an “understanding” with Shankar Mishra, he said “Yes”.
“I did not like the fact that they made them sit across each other… you don’t bring the aggressor and the victim face to face… The crew and captain can’t mediate in such issue. It is a crime and their job is to complain about crime,” he said.
Mishra’s father, Shyam Mishra, has denied the allegations to his son.
“This is a totally false case. My son was traveling from the US. He had not slept for 72 hours,” the father told India TV Today. “He might have taken a drink on the flight and slept. What happened after that even he does not know. It’s very difficult to prove. I don’t think he would have done this. The woman is 72 years old, she is like a mother to him.”
The incident was made public Wednesday after the airline filed a police complaint. The airline allegedly waited almost two months to file the complaint, because it believed both sides had “settled the matter.”
Air India’s CEO and managing director Campbell Wilson released a statement following the incident.
“Air India is deeply concerned about the in-flight instances where customers have suffered due to the condemnable acts of their co-passengers on our aircraft. We regret and are pained about these experiences. Air India acknowledges that it could have handled these matters better, both in the air and on the ground and is committed to taking action,” Wilson said in a statement.
The airline has grounded one pilot and four cabin crew and banned Mishra for 30 days, which sparked outrage on social media.
#FlyAI: Statement from Air India CEO pic.twitter.com/xCkPSECJaa
— Air India (@airindiain) January 7, 2023
Chairman Tata Sons also released a statement:
“The incident on Air India flight Al 102 on November 26th, 2022, has been a matter of personal anguish to me and my colleagues at Air India. Air India’s response should have been much swifter. We fell short of addressing this situation the way it should have been.”
#FlyAI: Statement of the Chairman Tata Sons on AI102 incident. pic.twitter.com/e38kFcARHt
— Air India (@airindiain) January 8, 2023
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo said in a statement that Mishra was terminated from the company.
“Wells Fargo holds employees to the highest standards of professional and personal behavior & we find these allegations deeply disturbing. This individual has been terminated from Wells Fargo,” according to the statement.
Air India passenger urinating case of 26 Nov 2022 | “Wells Fargo holds employees to the highest standards of professional and personal behavior & we find these allegations deeply disturbing. This individual has been terminated from Wells Fargo,” reads a statement from Wells Fargo pic.twitter.com/nWrbIy54DK
— ANI (@ANI) January 6, 2023
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