I refused pat-down search at US airport: India's UN envoy

I refused pat-down search at US airport: India`s UN envoy Zeenews Bureau

New York/New Delhi: One of India's top most diplomats, Hardeep Puri, Ambassador to the United Nations, was asked to remove his turban during an airport 'pat-down' search in the US but he refused to oblige, instead opting for another procedure.

Talking to a TV channel, Puri said the incident occurred at the Houston Airport on November 13 when he was asked by authorities at the airport to remove his turban for ‘pat-down’ check, but he refused.

“I told them I wanted to opt for another procedure where a passenger could pat down his own turban…but they were not aware of this,” he said.

All of this took about half an hour when I was kept in a ‘holding room’, after which they apologised to me, Puri added. India has lodged a strong protest following the incident.

The incident comes close on the heels of Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar being subjected to a 'pat-down' search earlier this month. The US deputy chief of mission in India, Donald Lu, was summoned by New Delhi to protest against the incident two days back.

India has lodged an official protest with US authorities through its Consulate General in Houston, sources said in New Delhi.

"I have taken it up with the US authorities and the matter is at that stage. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also give an indication to the fact that they have to revisit some of these procedures, particularly with reference to diplomatic cover of other countries," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said in New Delhi when asked about these searches.

Former Indian diplomats have reacted to the latest incident by pointing out that there should be reciprocal treatment of foreign envoys in India. "The issue is not just of diplomats, but also of our Sikh brethren, whose issue we had taken up several times," former Indian ambassador to US, Ronen Sen told a television channel.

He said the security check of Puri's turban violated the reassurances given by US authorities on sensitivity in handling religious symbols during checks. "We had explained to them that a pagri (turban) that a Sikh wears is not a headgear. It is a religious symbol, which should be treated with respect," said Sen.

On December 4, Shankar was pulled out from an airport security line and patted down by an American security agent in Mississippi despite informing them of her diplomatic status.

Shankar was subjected to an enhanced security pat-down at the Jackson-Evers International Airport in Mississippi, ostensibly because she was dressed in a sari.

In the past, many prominent Indians, including ministers, have faced some uncomfortable moments at US airports.

In September, visiting Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel was quizzed by US immigration authorities at the O'Hare airport in Chicago after his name and date of birth matched with that of another Praful Patel, who is on America's watch-list.

In August 2009, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was detained and questioned at the Newark Liberty International Airport. Khan was headed to Chicago for a parade to celebrate India's Independence Day, when he was pulled aside by airport authorities for interrogation.

Former Defence Minister George Fernandes had claimed that he was strip-searched twice at Dulles Airport in the US Capital area, when he was on an official visit to Washington in early 2002 and another time while en route to Brazil in mid 2003.

-Agencies inputs