Godspeed but Still Stuck at Security

Apr 25, 2011
*Special to asia!

For the religious traveller in traditional attire, travel becomes more of a hassle than ever.


627 The turban is required of all Sikh men as a covering for their hair. It is worn as a symbol of dedication and piety to their faith and its removal is an indication of mourning. (Photo credit: Parvinder Singh)


Amritinder Singh coaches India's top golfer Jeev Milkha Singh.

Last month in Milan, he found himself stopped, yet again, by the same security officer at the airport and asked to remove his turban for security checks.

For a Sikh, removal of the turban is a deeply offensive matter.

Just two weeks before, the same thing had happened, prompting the Italian Golf Federation to issue a letter to him, apologising for the harrassment.

Then, Singh was threatened with arrest if he did not take off his turban. He was made to remove it in a toilet, and – adding insult to injury - the turban was carried away in a tray used to hold shoes.

Are all turbaned Sikhs guilty till proven innocent? Religious tolerance is becoming a necessary sacrifice, in the name of security

An angry Amritinder Singh asked, “What is the Italian government's policy on turbaned Sikhs? Are they all guilty till proven innocent?”

There have also been demands for the Indian government to do more.

An editorial critical of the passivity of Sikh leaders said:

The history won’t pardon these Sikh leaders, leaders who take pride in being a Sikh, take credit for being a Sikh and have failed completely, till now, to serve the basic causes of Sikhs. What can be more basic for a Sikh and even a Sikh leader than to fight for the Turban.


India's prime minister himself has come under attack for not speaking out enough to protect the rights of Sikhs. Dr Manmohan Singh is a Sikh who sports a turban.

Dr Singh was recently in France where there has been heated debate about the passage of a recent law making it illegal for Muslim women to put on a face veil.

France has strict law against religious adornments in public institutions. In defence of the legislation, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said:

...we have rules, rules concerning the neutrality of civil servants, rules concerning secularism, and these rules don't apply only to Sikhs, they apply to Muslims or others. They apply to all on the territory of the French Republic. 


This was further backed by the European Human Rights Court, which dismissed the case of three French Sikh boys expelled for wearing the turban in school.

In France, Sikhs are required to remove the turban while taking a photograph in application for official documents like driver's licenses. Responding to this, India Minister of State for External Affairs, recently appealed to the French government to reconsider it, giving the logical argument that:

...if Sikhs are photographed without turbans, then they are accumulating wrong records because normally, a Sikh will always wear a turban. 


France's ruling against the turban targets the country's Sikh community which numbers between 4,000 and 6,000, just a few times more than the 2,000-plus Muslim women targeted by the Islamic face veil ban

In an attempt to juggle religious sensitivity and security concerns, the U.S. Transport and Security Administration (TSA) implemented the Advanced Imaging Technology machine, which according to the TSA website, “safely screens passengers for metallic and nonmetallic threats including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing without physical contact”. 

However, it may have now resulted in additional screening for turban-sporting Sikh passengers. In an advisory issued by the Sikh advocacy group, Sikh Coalition, these machines are not powerful enough to screen through the layers of fabric in a turban.

According to an article in the Times of India,

"This means that, for Sikhs, the new machines will lead to more – not less – screening of turbans," Sikh Coalition said, adding that its assessment is based on feedback from the community and interaction with officials of the TSA and Department of Homeland Security.

Still, perhaps any well-intentioned move to make security concerns resemble less of racial profiling is better than none. Especially considering that it is not standard practice.

Muslims in the Lower-Saxony region of Germany often find the road in front of their mosque cordoned off during Friday prayers. Identification and bag checks are not uncommon. 

And when he openly criticised the Sarkozy government's ban on the Muslim face veil, Abderrahmane Dahmane, whom the president himself appointed as diversity adviser, was sacked. 

Religious tolerance is not a given. Instead it is becoming a necessary sacrifice, in the name of security and a crusade against terrorism.



Other alarm-causing religious customs


Jews travelling on a Mexico-US flight had caused triggered off a cockpit lockdown while performing a daily religious prayer ritual, during which black leather straps were bound to their foreheads and arms, carrying small, black prayer boxes holding scripture.

A similarly dressed Israeli Jew caused a ferry boat captain in New Zealand to call the police

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi