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Govt should Intervene to Stop Turban Frisking

Himmat Singh

A very peculiar situation has arisen the world over for Sikhs with the recent enforcement of US Homeland Security Department rules giving full powers to screening officers at their airports in ordering a deliberate security check of turbaned Sikh passengers.

This would include a patting down of the turban with the use of the electronic detector, the touching and feeling of the turban for any suspicious objects, and in some cases a removal of the ‘pugri’ itself in a private enclosure and its examination for non-metallic threats including explosives.

In theory and now in practice, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gen J J Singh the COAS, Sikh MPs, the SGPC Chief, Sikh dignitaries in Bureaucracy, Judiciary and Armed Forces, and certainly the common Sikh turbaned air passenger, are all in line for a possible removal and physical check of their turbans at American airports.

The matter has already been raised in the Rajya Sabha by Punjab MP Dr MS Gill with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the Sikh watchdog organisations in America, and more recently by the SGPC Chief himself. But no one from the Central government has yet taken it up at the highest level with the Americans, busy as they are with the Left and the nuclear deal and other matters that are considered politically more profitable in their eyes.

The turbaned Sikh by now forms an integral part of the American social and political landscape and the question that needs to be posed is why, with an extremely popular and visible PM who has been featured on the cover of the Time magazine, and with the Americans having one of the largest embassies in the world in New Delhi, their Administration has still not understood that for the Sikhs a turban is not just a ‘headgear’ but an integral part of the Sikh’s personality, psyche and religion itself.

The Sikh turban surely does not look like a turban tied in Iran or the conventional Arab headgear. It is tied differently, and is respected by the Sikh as his whole being and ‘izzat’. It is also not understood as to how America, the most advanced country in the world technologically, cannot detect metallic and non-metallic objects hidden in the turban without virtually carrying out a strip search of the highly embarrassed individual concerned.

Can not the screening officers differentiate between a Jewish skull cap, a Muslim head scarf or an Arab overwear, so many years after 9/11, and if that is the case then the Indian government needs to educate them on this. The Sikhs’ turban is an article of faith for us and everything that goes with it.

Regrettably, the Sikhs, due to their own in-fighting within the SGPC, the Akali Dals interplay with each other, being Punjab-centric in their thinking, and the marked propensity of some Sikh scholars, who, because of small assignments of profit dangled by the government of the day in Punjab, choose to restrict or cannalise their views, end up in a situation where the just cause of the Sikh community suffers.

Is there a solution to this impasse? Yes, and here I believe the Sikhs themselves should have little objection to the suggested proposal. As often happens at our airports in India at Security clearance time, there is no physical touch or handling of the turban and a detector is carefully passed around it, with the dignity of the passenger fully preserved.

If the SGPC agrees to this, then the MEA needs to take up this matter expeditiously with the American government for a similar procedure for the turbaned Sikh traveler. However, if the authorities at an American port have definitely identified a suspicious object in the turban with all the means at their disposal, then quite clearly the person would have to be taken into an enclosure, and not in the open for a fuller check.

We Sikhs too may wish to think it over that if we are to travel internationally in this global world, then some security measures, but enforced with due respect and dignity, may have to be accepted. If this matter is not resolved soon at the highest government level then I fear that other countries in the world, especially in Europe, may follow suit with the American example and, therefore, the Sikh leadership would need to unite and take up its case most expeditiously.

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