Indian envoy asked to remove turban at US airport

New Delhi: Days after the news that India's envoy to Washington, Meera Shankar, was patted down for wearing a sari, comes the news that India's envoy to the UN, Hardeep Puri, was also pulled out at an American airport, because of his turban.

The incident happened on November 13 at the airport in Austin, Texas.

"The incident happened at the airport in Austin, Texas on November 13th. They told me 'We have new procedures that involve extra screening.' I went through the scanner...they took me to separate holding area...the security officer said he wants to pat down my turban...I refused...they came back after 20 to 30 minutes and apologized," Puri told NDTV.

Government sources say they found out about Puri's encounter with American security only last week, just as they learned about what happened with Meera Shankar.

So when the US Deputy Chief of Mission Donald Lu was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday, a strong protest was lodged on both incidents.

New Delhi told Washington that the religious and cultural sentiments of diplomats had to be respected, and even threatened to retaliate and withdraw the privileges of American diplomats here.

After India's protest, Hillary Clinton herself promised a review of US policy, but he rules at US airports do not exempt ambassadors from intrusive security checks, and this is true for all countries. (Read: US regrets Indian envoy Meera Shankar's frisking)

This is not the first time that senior Indian politicians and diplomats have been subjected to additional frisking at airports in the United States.

  • The then Defence Minister George Fernandes was made to undergo a body search in the US in 2003

  • Former President APJ Abdul Kalam was frisked by Continental Airlines of US in April, 2009

  • Aviation minister Praful Patel was recently detained and questioned in Chicago as his name matched someone on no-fly list

The latest incidents, however, have been the last straw where a sari and a turban have been the reasons for intrusive security checks of top diplomats, and that, New Delhi says is simply not on.
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