January 25, 2011

Turban searches make air travel difficult for Sikhs

by Jan Harris

New rules in the USA mean that Sikhs are facing increased screening of turbans at airports, despite the fact that the turban has important spiritual significance and it is offensive to Sikhs to touch their turban or ask them to remove it in public.

The Sikh Coalition has warned that even when Sikhs have passed through Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines at American airports, they will also be required to undergo turban checks 100 per cent of the time.

The AIT machines can see through layers of clothing, but are not powerful enough to see through turbans, according to Transportation Security Administration.

Difficulties at airports have increase for Sikhs since airport security was stepped up worldwide after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In Europe Sikhs are concerned that Poland may re-introduce its policy requiring them to place their turbans on conveyor belts at airports for inspection.

The policy was suspended late last year after Shammi Puri, a Sikh working with the UN in Poland, refused to allow his turban to be inspected by the Polish Border Force.

His case was taken up by the minister of state for foreign affairs, Preneet Kaur, leading to the policy being suspended.

European legislation gives airports the right to pat down and unravel a sikh’s turban if the metal detector bleeps when they pass through.

In the UK this practice was suspended in July by the Department of Transport following complaints from Sikh leaders.

UK airports were advised to stop searching turbans by hand, unless metal is detected by a hand held wand.

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