Sikhs slam mandatory turban search at US airports

The TSA demands that Sikhs undergo secondary screening for turban they wear.

Washington: America`s Transportation Security Administration officials have informed Sikh groups here that the community members should now expect turbans to always be searched at US airports, prompting angry reaction from Sikhs.

A group of Sikh organisations including Sikh Coalition, UNITED SIKHS, and Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund (SALDEF) have decided to oppose this.

While procedures which allow Sikhs to pat down their own turbans and have their hands swabbed by a TSA screener shall remain in place, what has changed is that turbaned Sikhs must go through an additional hand wand of the turban as an additional screening procedure 100 percent of the time, a media release said.

This is true even for Sikh travellers who voluntarily choose to be screened by going through the new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines.

The AIT machines (otherwise known as whole body imaging machines) are being placed in airports nationwide over the coming years, the press statement said.

"The TSA seems fixated on turbans even though we learned last Christmas that any piece of clothing can hide dangerous devices," said Amardeep Singh, programme director, Sikh Coalition.

"Blindly singling out turbans when any other piece of clothing is as capable of hiding explosives is unsafe and un-American. While forcing turbaned Sikhs to go through an extra pat down may make people feel safer it doesn`t actually make anyone safer. This is security threat at its worst," Singh said.

The TSA says that because a turban is "non form-fitting”, it is more capable of concealing dangerous items than other forms of clothing.

The TSA also says that its new AIT machines cannot see through the folds of a turban to determine if it is concealing a dangerous item, said the statement issued on behalf of these Sikh Organisations.

"National Sikh organisations oppose this policy and question its necessity. Targeting turbans for additional scrutiny sends a message to other passengers that Sikhs and their articles of faith are to be viewed with suspicion by fellow travellers. The policy is a serious infringement on the
Sikh community`s civil rights and liberties," it said.

The Sikh Coalition called on all concerned people to communicate their concerns directly with the TSA and their members of Congress in the coming weeks.


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