Washington, DC: America’s airport security has found a new terrorist threat to US aviation: the sari.
Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar was pulled from an airport security line and patted down by an American security agent in Mississippi despite being told of her diplomatic status.
The incident took place on December 4 at the Jackson-Evers International Airport where sari-clad Meera Shankar was about to board a flight to Baltimore after attending the Mississippi State University’s program, the Clarion-Ledger reported.
Meera Shankar presented her diplomatic papers to officers and was escorted by a Mississippi Development Authority representative and an airport security officer, but witnesses said she was subjected to the hands-on search.
She was taken to a VIP waiting room despite being told she was an ambassador. She was later pulled from a security line and patted down by a female Transportation Security Administration agent.
Witnesses tell the Clarion-Ledger security agents told Meera Shankar she was singled out because she was wearing a sari, which the paper notes is as “a traditional Indian robe that is draped across the body.”
The Jackson airport does not yet have full-body screeners, which meant that the ambassador became subject to the thorough pat-down, the paper said.
New TSA regulations went into effect on November 1 allowing federal security officers at airports to switch to more thorough – but often controversial – “pat-downs” for passengers, who require hand searches.
Meera Shankar was in Jackson as a guest of Mississippi State University.
“While in town, Meera Shankar met with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, representatives from the Mississippi Development Authority and members of the Indian community in Jackson, and she spoke to more than 100 people at the Executive Lecture Forum of Jackson,” the paper said.
Gov. Haley Barbour’s spokesman Dan Turner said the governor’s office is looking into the incident.
“At this time, we’re trying to find out exactly what happened – all of the details,” Turner said.
In the past, many prominent Indians, including ministers, have faced some uncomfortable moments at US airports.
In September, visiting Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel was quizzed by US immigration authorities at the O’Hare airport in Chicago after his name and date of birth matched with that of another Praful Patel, who is on America’s watch-list.
In August 2009, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was detained and questioned at Newark Liberty International Airport. Khan was headed to Chicago for a parade to celebrate India’s Independence Day, when he was pulled aside by airport authorities for interrogation.
Former Defense Minister George Fernandes had claimed that he was strip-searched twice at Dulles Airport in the US Capital area, when he was on an official visit to Washington in early 2002 and another time while en route to Brazil in mid 2003.