Friday, November 28, 2008

Airport Turban Search

On the way back home from Denmark, I was asked by the Copenhagen Airport security staff to take off my Dastaar (turban). I was passing through the metal detectors and the machine went off. This is very normal because I don't take off my Karras (like all other Amritdharis I know). Wearing the Karra is never a problem and the airport staff usually don't ask for the Karra to be removed.

The usual proceedure after the metal detecting maching going off is that the security guard patts you down and then gets a hand-held metal detector wand which he waves across the body and over the Dastaar. It is very simple and I've never had any problems.

However, this time (first time ever) the security guard said, "Please remove" (pointing at my Dastaar). I said, "No" to the man. The security guard was very nice and seemed that he didn't wish to cause offence or anything. He said, "You will need to take it off. Could you do so in a side-room".

I asked, "Why do you want me to take off my turban? Every time I have been abroad in Europe etc, I have never ever been asked to remove my turban. Do you not have a hand-held metal detector wand to wave over my turban." The man spoke little and just said, "No, Sir." Waheguru. I was gob-smacked that such a big international airport (Copenhagen Airport) didn't have any hand-held metal detector wands and relied only on the huge walk-in metal detecting machines! Rab hee Raakha!

I repeated the request, "I am baffled you have no hand-held metal detector wands at all. Are you sure?" The man looked at another female security guard and then another male security guard who shook their heads to signal they had no hand-held detectors. If it was Tashkent Airport in Uzbekistan or something, I could imagine they might not be able to afford hand-held metal detector wands, but for such a large european international airport to have such poor security equipment was beyond belief.

So, I had no choice. Two security guards escorted me to a small room (it was my like a small box-room with no windows and very dim light!). I slowly unwrapped my dastaar and placed my dastaar on my shoulder. After unwrapping my dastaar, I pointed to my Keski (short under-turban) and asked, "Do I need to remove this as well?" They nodded their head and said, "Yes." So I untied my Keski and placed it on my shoulder as well. Then one of the security guards took off his gloves. It looked like he was getting ready to put his hands through my Kesh! Waheguru, Waheguru. I stopped him and said, "You can look, but you cannot touch my hair or turban." He was nice about it and said "that is fine". But the two security guards still kept looking at me. It felt slightly uncomfortable - I am standing in a small dark and dingy box room with my hair down, and two Danish man just staring like zombies at me! I thought to myself, do they think I have metal item shoved in my scalp or something! Rab Jaane.

I (jokingly) said, "Ermm... do you want me to shake my hair or something." The security guards said "Yes". Sat Naam, Waheguru! (I was only joking!). I was confused! Rab Raakha. So I shook my hair from side to side to show that I had nothing in my Kesh (I probably looked like a hippy at a rave concert or something!). They were happy and said thats fine.

Then they watched me very carefully as I re-tied my dastaar (I tried to be as quick as possible because the lack of space and indirect pressure of hurrying up). It must have been the first time they have seen long Kesh and someone untying and re-tying their Dastaar. They looked really pleased at how the dastaar was tied.

When I got through to the Departures area, I decided to wash my hands in the toilet. As I looked in the mirror, I realised that I looked a MESS. Waheguru! Because the room where I tied my Dastaar was so dark and I felt like I was being rushed, I didn't realise that my Dastaar looked aweful! Waheguru. It looked worst than a Baba from the Pind who ties his Dastaar without looking in the mirror (and no bother in the world!)! Unfortunately I didn't find anywhere suitable to re-tie my Dastaar so I had look like an utter mess until I arrived back home!

Despite being stopped and the lack of competence in the airport security checking facilities, the men were very polite and apologised for taking my time. However, I am worried that the airport staff claimed that they had no hand-held metal detector wands. Secondly, what is their policy for searching turbans (if they have one!). Someone suggested that I contact United Sikhs. So I did so. They replied very promptly and said that they will take appropriate action in finding out what the airport policies are and ensure it doesn't happen to any other Sikhs.


If anyone has faced any issues at any airport as a result of their Dastaar or any other issue (e.g. Kirpan), then please contact the United Sikhs. Details below:


Airport Turban Screening Database Form:


Anonymous said...

Incidents like these are becomming too common. you'd think that by now they'd have proper guidlines in place about searching turbans. You handled the sutuation very calmly. I think i would have panicked if i was asked to remove my dastaar, and that too if i was travelling alone!!! This is going to make think twice.

Jagjeet Singh -- said...

Veer ji -

This is really sad and strange for me that they do not have metal detector.

Jagjeet Singh

PepperSprayKing said...

It is standard airport practice around the world that religious headwear is only removed after conventional screening methods raise an alarm.

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Jeff said...

In response to PepperSprayKing: yeah that is true, for example had they waved the handheld metal detector wands over Bhai Ji's Dastaar and it beeped or something, then they could legitimately asked him to remove the Dastaar (Turban). I personally have the suspicion that they did have the detectors but didn't want to use them for whatever reason.

Balraj Singh said...

all too common place, i do understand that in the US if the wand alarm goes off, then they can/will ask you to remove your Dastar otherwise they cant ask for this, but that's only the US

Navtej Sanghera said...

From speaking with an immigration/border agent, they also want to check for material that cannot be detected with a metal detector (explosive devices).

I was travelling in the US recently, and initially, the agent wanted to check/feel my turban, which I objected to. I stated that there has to be an alternative, as I will not allow them to touch my turban. The agent was curteous, and said that they can allow me to remove the turban myself. I was fine with that, and said lets get another agent as a witness, and take me to a private room.

Prabhjit said...

Navtej Sanghera - please go to the Sikh Coalition website and please fill out a questionnaire on what occurred to you! It is very important that you inform the Coalition of your experience so that they can keep statistics of the occurrences within airports.

Thanks so much!