The World Sikh Organization (WSO) expresses concern over the recent policy change by the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) which specifically includes the turban as an example of something that could be used to hide non-metallic threat items and allows for secondary screening and pat-downs. While we appreciate the utmost need to ensure security for all air travellers, WSO is concerned that the specific targeting of the turban as a security threat will have an enormous negative impact on the Sikh community.
The turban is one of the most visible and significant markers of the Sikh faith. The turban symbolizes spirituality, gender equality, and honour. Sikhs consider it a grievous insult for someone to touch or remove another's turban. The new TSA policy puts members of the Sikh faith in a very uncomfortable and humiliating position.
WSO has also learnt that the actual new procedure and the implementation guidelines have not been made public. Furthermore, no Sikh body was consulted prior to the implementation of the new policy. While we understand that TSA does not wish to engage in religious or ethnic profiling, in effect, by specifically targeting the turban for additional security screening, the TSA is doing precisely that, since all turban-wearing Sikhs will be singled out as being potential security threats. In light of the struggles Sikhs have faced post 9/11, this is particularly disconcerting.
WSO understands that the TSA believes that non-metallic objects could be hidden inside a Turban, hence the need for secondary screening (a fear which is imagined rather than real). If this is true, then surely this also applies to non-metallic objects which could be hidden in a passenger's clothing.
WSO (International) President, Ram Raghbir Singh Chahal said, "Is the TSA also going to authorize an automatic strip search for all travellers? If the TSA is definitely committed to "equal" treatment of all air travellers, then why are nun's habits, or priests' gowns not specifically mentioned as clothing which could contain offensive "non-metallic" objects?
WSO requests that in light of these concerns, the TSA suspend the new screening policy and work with the Sikh community to create fair and unbiased screening directives which while ensuring passenger safety also respect and protect the religious rights of Sikh passengers.