Indian diplomat `patted down` in US

Meera Shankar was pulled from an security line and patted down by a security agent in Mississippi.

Last Updated: Dec 09, 2010, 13:33 PM IST

Washington: Indian Ambassador Meera
Shankar was pulled from an airport security line and patted
down by an American security agent in Mississippi despite
being told of her diplomatic status, prompting Indian mission
here to strongly protest against the incident.

The incident took place on December 4 at the Jackson-
Evers International Airport where sari-clad Shankar was about
to board a flight to Baltimore after attending the Mississippi
State University`s programme, an Indian Embassy official said.

Shankar presented her diplomatic papers to officers
and was escorted by a Mississippi Development Authority
representative and an airport security officer, but witnesses
said she was subjected to the hands-on search, the official
said.

She was taken to a VIP waiting room despite being told
she was an ambassador. She was later pulled from a security
line and patted down by a woman Transportation Security
Administration agent.

The official said the Indian Embassy will take up the
issue with the State Department.

"We are taking it up with the State Department," the
Embassy official said.

Witnesses were quoted by the local Clarion-Ledger
newspaper as saying that security agents told Shankar she was
singled out because she was wearing a sari.

This is for the first time that Shankar, who always
has been seen wearing a sari, has had to undergo such a
pat-down search in the US.

After arriving in Washington as India`s top diplomat
to the US, Shankar has been travelling a lot inside the US and
giving lectures to universities across the country.

But this was for the first time that Shankar was
travelling outside Washington after the new TSA regulations
went into effect.

New TSA regulations went into effect on November 1
allowing federal security officers at airports to switch to
more thorough - but often controversial - "pat-downs" for
passengers who require hand searches.

Of late it has received a lot of criticism for its
pat-downs and full-body scanning, which TSA argues has been
taken up in view of the increased security threat.

The Jackson airport does not yet have full-body
screeners, which meant that the ambassador became subject to
the thorough pat-down.

Shankar was in Jackson as a guest of Mississippi State
University.

In town, Shankar met with Lt Gov Phil Bryant,
representatives from the Mississippi Development Authority and
members of the Indian community in Jackson, and she spoke to
more than 100 people at the Executive Lecture Forum of
Jackson.

Gov. Haley Barbour`s spokesman Dan Turner said the
governor`s office is looking into the incident.
"At this time, we`re trying to find out exactly what
happened - all of the details," Turner said.

PTI