Sikhs to face enhanced 'pat-down' in US airports

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Washington, Jan 15: The word “pat-down" was the highly searched on Google till recently with various Indian ambassadors having to face humiliation due to “pat-down" searching from mostly US airports. The latest victim was Hardeep Puri, India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He was asked to remove his turban during a security check in Houston Airport in December 2010.

Read : US' 'pat-down' continues;insults Indian UN envoy

But now the search could as well be legal and official. A mass email alert says that people from the Sikh community better be ready for thorough checking in US airports.

The directive from Transport and Security Administration (TSA) said, “Sikhs should now expect to be secondarily screened 100 per cent of the time at American airports, even after passing through so-called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines." The machines are ideally intended to see through layers of clothing, according to TSA. But they have substantiated that they are not powerful enough to see through Sikh turbans, also called pagris.

A US-based advocacy group for the Sikh community, Sikh Coalition on receipt of the email commented, “This means that, for Sikhs, the new machines will lead to more - not less - screening of turbans." The Sikh Coalition, however emphasized that the directive have been issued by the TSA after consultations with the community and representatives of TSA and Department of Homeland Security.

Taking a creditworthy stand at times of such heightened security-challenging situations all over the world, the Sikh Coalition said, "Even still, in the meantime, we believe that Sikh travellers should at least know what to expect at American airports," it said in its alert.

"Because the machine cannot see through your turban, your turban must first go through a pat-down (either self-administered or administered by a TSA screener) to scan for non-metallic threat items. After this procedure is finished, your turban will now also be subjected to a hand-held metal detector wand search to scan for metallic threat items," says the travel guideline issued by Sikh Coalition.

"Please keep in mind that you can always pat-down your own turban. Your turban should also not be ordered removed unless a screener detects something dangerous in your turban either at the pat-down or metal-detecting stage. To avoid false alarms, we recommend that you wash your hands before entering the screening area," it said.

According to the TSA, if a person's turban or hands trigger an alarm during explosive trace detection sampling, the person will be required to undergo private screening and remove the turban to resolve the concern, Sikh Coalition said in its guidelines.

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