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Frisk those Americans

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Last Updated: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - 15:58
Ritesh K Srivastava
The Observer

At a time when the Indo-US relationship is moving towards a higher plane, our diplomats and bureaucrats, who have been working relentlessly in bringing the two nations closer, are being mistreated and insulted in the US.

The recent frisking and pat-down search of two senior Indian diplomats by the US authorities in the name of security checks is highly condemnable and unacceptable. Despite the fresh air of bonhomie between the two states, the humiliation and insult which our diplomats are facing in the US is yet another proof of Americans’ doublespeak and the real ‘importance’ they attach to New Delhi.

And all this has been happening at a time when President Obama has been stressing on his country’s realignment with emerging super powers like India and China for creating a new world order.

The US wants India’s unflinching support in its global stances including Iran and other issues of concern, but repeatedly fails to accord due and reciprocal respect for the representatives of the largest democracy in the world.

On December 4, Indian Ambassador to the United States, Meera Shankar, was selected by security officials at a Mississippi Airport for a pat-down search, despite reportedly notifying officials of her diplomatic status.

Just a week before that, Hardeep Puri, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN was asked to remove his turban during a security check at the Houston Airport. When Puri refused to do so, he was unnecessarily harassed by the US authorities and held for half an hour at the airport.

It is known world-over that followers of Sikhism keep their hair covered at all times with a turban, which is not allowed to be touched in public. Clearly, the treatment meted out to our diplomats was bound to spark off outrage in the country.

It is not for the first time that such humiliating incidents have taken place in the US. Last year, our former President APJ Abdul Kalam was asked to remove his shoes and former
defence minister George Fernandez was subjected to similar treatment while he was in the US.

Frisking of former president Kalam by the ground staff of Continental Airlines was seen as a grave insult to the nation and the matter was then taken up with the US authorities.

After the US gave an assurance, it was believed that such incident will not recur in the future. However, it seems that Americans are yet to learn the lessons of diplomatic protocol.

Going by the public sentiment, it is high time that we stop according a VVIP treatment to the high-ranking American officials visiting our country and instead subject them to the similar treatment which our diplomats have faced.

We should exempt diplomats of only those countries who welcome our diplomats respectfully on their shores. It is time that the External Affairs Ministry reminded its US counterpart about the Vienna Convention of 1969, which was adopted by 111 countries and envisages a special treatment to foreign diplomats by airport authorities in a host country.

The treatment meted out to Kalam and other diplomats by the US security officials is a clear violation of Indian Laws and a breach of protocol meant for VIPs and VVIPs, who are exempt from frisking and security checks.

The government should not confine itself to mere demanding an apology from the US administration over the “crass and disrespectful behaviour” of their security officials.

It must subject the so-called Americans to frisking, strip searches and passing through a full body scanner in order to give them a taste of their own indecency and arrogant behaviour.

Ironically, all this is happening at a time when India is busy giving a red-carpet welcome to top world leaders including David Cameron, Barack Obama, Nicholas Sarkozy, Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao and now Russian President Medvedev.

Centre has been taking exemplary measures in ensuring the safety of the visiting foreign dignitaries keeping in mind that they return with pleasant memories of our hospitality.

Since we have always lived up to our age-old saying “atithi devo bhav” (Guests are like God), advocating a harsher treatment for those who insult us will be inappropriate and not in accordance with international protocol meant for foreign guests.

However, I still feel that sometimes resorting to such tactics yields positive results. Imagine, how the Americans would react if Hillary or any other top ranking official is frisked or asked to remove his/her shoes in the name of a security check.

It is pity that we Indians are often so helpless and expected to bear such humiliation graciously and not even voice our concern against such treatment. The Americans take pride in following their country’s legislation on their home soil but they must also learn to abide by international norms and regulations.

They cannot ill-treat any one and at the same time expect the best of every thing for their own brethren. The point is not against frisking anyone or security checks when the safety of so many innocent lives is at stake. Any one would agree that in view of increased terrorist threats, every country and not only America, has introduced enhanced security measures to assess and detect any threat to human lives.

But the question is why some countries follow double standards in security procedures - a lenient one for their own men and a hostile one for persons of different nationalities.

First Published: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - 15:58

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