Indian diplomat detained in U.S. for refusing to remove turban in new airport security gaffe


A diplomatic row between the U.S. and India has deepened after it emerged that a second dignitary was subjected to an invasive security search at a U.S. airport.

India's UN envoy Hardeep Puri was detained for more than 30 minutes in a holding room at Houston Airport, Texas, after refusing to remove his turban.

The Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna today said: 'We have taken it up with the U.S. authorities and the matter is at that stage.'

Offended: UN envoy Hardeep Puri was asked to remove his turban at Houston Airport in Texas

Offended: UN envoy Hardeep Puri was asked to remove his turban at Houston Airport in Texas

Sikh men are expected to keep their heads covered in public at all times and turbans are only to be removed in the most intimate of circumstances, or when washing.

It is even forbidden to touch the head dress in public as it symbolises self-respect, honour, and piety.

India has reportedly lodged an official protest through its Consulate General in Huston with the U.S. authorities.

However, former diplomats in India have reacted aggressively to the Puri incident, saying that if Washington does not change its policy on searches, diplomats from the U.S. should also be ready to face such security in India.

They also called on the governments of the two counties to meet and resolve the issue at the earliest.

The offence caused to Mr Pui follows on from an incident last week which the Indian ambassador to America was subjected the controversial new 'patdown' technique employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), because she was wearing a sari.

Friends in high places: Indian ambassador Meera Shankar (left) alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a State Arrival at the White House

Friends in high places: Indian ambassador Meera Shankar (left) alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a State Arrival at the White House

Meera Shankar, who dined at the White House just last month, was given one of the controversial searches after she was pulled from an airport security line in Mississippi.

The incident, which one state official called ‘unfortunate,’ occurred after the 60-year-old had visited Mississippi State University for an International studies programme.

The university has said it will apologise to the ambassador after the incident ‘ruined the whole day’.

Former diplomat and now chairman of the university’s international studies department Janos Radvanyi told Associated Press that they will be sending her a letter of apology.

He said: ‘It was a wonderful programme, maybe the best we’ve had, (but) this stupid incident ruined the whole thing. She said, ‘I will never come back here.’

Revealing: The nude body scans are used to pick up hidden objects that a passenger may be concealing under their clothes but leaves little to the imagination

Revealing: The nude body scans are used to pick up hidden objects that a passenger may be concealing under their clothes but leaves little to the imagination

Despite the embarrassment, a TSA spokesman said diplomats were not exempt from the searches and that Ms Shankar ‘was screened in accordance with TSA’s security policies and procedures’.

Last month Ms Shankar attended a glitzy state dinner for the Indian Prime Minister at the White House and the 338-person guest list included a mix of Washington insiders, Hollywood A-listers, the Obamas and prominent figures from the Indian community in the US.

Yet despite being pictured alongside US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Ms Shankar’s connections did not help when faced with TSA security.

The TSA has come under fire for its screening programme and ex-Playboy model Donna D’Errico claims officers were ‘leering’ at her nude body scan after being singled out.

Miss D’Errico, 42, was flying from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh with her partner and her 17-year-old son Rhyan.

She said she was pulled aside and told she would have to go through one of the full body scans, which have caused much controversy since being introduced at US airports because every contour of the body is revealed during the scan.

The screening officer can see an image of the unclothed body, while the passenger’s face is blurred. Once the passenger has been screened the ‘naked’ imagery is deleted.

Miss D’Errico said she felt ‘overexposed’ at being chosen to go through the scanner.
The Jackson airport where Ms Shankar was patted down does not yet have the controversial scanners.

TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball said a number of factors could prompt a pat-down search, including bulky clothing, but he said the agency did not generally discuss specific cases.

India's relations with the US have been cool at times, partly because of US ties to India's traditional rival, Pakistan. However, relations between India and the US have grown closer in recent years.

Mr Radvanyi said at least one official from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), the state's economic agency, witnessed the search, reportedly conducted in a booth or room with transparent walls.

Mr Kimball said less than three per cent of passengers received a pat-down search and anyone who asked for a private screening would be taken to a room out of public view.

It is not clear if Ms Shankar asked for the search to be done in private.

Melissa Medley, spokesperson for the MDA said: 'Mississippi has always had a good relationship with the Indian government and we hope that this unfortunate incident does not damage the perceptions Indian officials have of Mississippi.'