Airlines: Don't break our instruments and hurt artistes

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I had started this petition about 2yrs ago, fighting for the right of artists like me who continue to suffer at the hands of these stupid airlines. My Sitar has been vandalised once again, this time by our own AirIndia!! Just arrived in New York to perform at the Vedic Heritage Inc. I found that my sitar has been open. How can anyone be so ruthless and insensitive? For sure, this has been slit open because there is no way the sitar would break in this fashion.

I know many people will come out in support and suggest many things but the simple truth is that airlines and their staff need to be sensitised towards how to handle music instruments. WHEN DOES THIS STOP??? How can any artist survive if airlines keep breaking their instruments whenever they travel? These days, no one asks me how I am after a journey. They always ask me how my instrument is!!

Someone needs to take responsibility for this callousness and something drastic needs to be done so that we artists do not continue to suffer, be it at the hands of AirIndia or any other airlines. The first step towards achieving this would be to do away with the "limited release" rule behind which airlines hide and blackmail artists. most airlines make artists sign a 'Limited Release" form where it states that the airline is not responsible for any damage to the instrument!!

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Musicians across the world face a huge problem in transporting their musical instruments safely. Most delicate instruments are not allowed to be carried on board and the airlines ask them to check them in as regular luggage. The problem arises when the airlines start treating these delicate musical instruments as regular luggage too. Despite putting them in almost unbreakable fibre glass box and the box reinforced by a padded cover, my very delicate Sitar has been vandalised quite a few times. Recently, Air Berlin had sliced it open, God knows to check what!!! It surely looked like a 'hate crime'. This happened when I was traveling from Vienna to Nice. I could not perform in Nice that evening. Air France had lost it for almost a week but luckily, my instrument came to me undamaged. As recently as few weeks ago, Jet Airways broke my precious Sitar again when I was traveling from Sydney to Delhi via Bangkok. My initial segment, Sydney to Bangkok was on a Qantas flight and from Bangkok to Delhi, on a Jet Airways flight. According to international regulations and agreements, it is the responsibility of Jet Airways to ensure my luggage reaches me safely (Got to learn this when Qantas washed their hands off this incident). Many such incidents across the world to musicians prove that airlines are very callous where it comes to taking responsibility towards musical instruments. Not only do artists face huge financial losses but also a huge emotional connect that they have with their instrument. To every artist, his/her instrument is just like a child that they love and nurture every day of their lives and to see it vandalised as I have and am sure many artists have, is indeed a CRIME.

The biggest problem lies in the fact that most airlines make artists sign a 'Limited Release" form where it states that the airline is not responsible for any damage to the instrument!!! It does not require anyone to be a rocket scientist to realise that this is most unfair and amounts to blackmail by the airline industry. When a perfect musical instrument that is suitable packed for travel is handed over to any airlines, it should surely be the responsibility of the airlines to ensure that it is handed back safely. So, we need to bring about a change, not just in the existing rules that favour the airline industry but also make them accountable when such a tragedy happens. The first step towards achieving this would be to do away with this "limited release" rule behind which airlines hide and blackmail artists. 

Shubendra Rao

(Other artistes and eminent individuals supporting this cause)

Saskia Rao de Haas, Cello

Arun Bharatram, Sitar

Ustad Shujaat Khan

Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

Ustad Irshad Khan

Ustad Bahauddin Dagar

Pandit Rajeev Taranath

Pandit Sanju Sahai

Pandita Anuradha Pal

Abhishek Mishra

Saleh Missaeedi

Chinmaya Raja

Ashish Dharmadhikari

Nayanika Ghosh