Date: 18/08/2013

Sikh delegation told to remove turbans at Rome airport

TNN Aug 8, 2013, 04.42AM IST


(Delhi’s gurdwara…)

NEW DELHI: Delhi's gurdwara management committee president Manjeet Singh GK and other members of a Sikh delegation were not cleared to board a flight from Rome after they refused to take off their turbans at the airport security check on Tuesday.

Manjeet Singh, who is also Delhi chief of Akali Dal (Badal), told TOI that the delegation had offered to let the staff touch their turbans and run a metal detector over it, but the Italian security insisted on them taking the turbans off.

Description: Description: Description: issue led to Sikhs protesting outside the Italian embassy in Delhi on Wednesday and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal saying he would take up the matter with the Prime Minister.

Badal on Wednesday urged the central government to mount pressure on foreign countries so that turbans worn by Sikh travellers are not ordered removed for security checks at airports. "Removal of turban in the name of security check in foreign countries is a direct assault on Sikh identity. Any disrespect to the identity in any form is not tolerable," Badal said.

Ironically, Manjeet Singh was leading a delegation of the Delhi Shiromani Gurudwara Management Committee for participating in a turban awareness day to Italy. While the Sikh community is irked, Manjeet Singh had returned to the airport on Wednesday evening in another attempt to catch the flight home.

Speaking to TOI over phone, Singh described the attitude of the security personnel at Rome airport as insensitive. He said when the staff asked him to remove his turban, he tried to tell them that this was not possible as it defied the teachings of Sikhism.

"But they refused to understand. We even offered that the staff could touch the turban on the head and run a metal detector over it to ensure that security was compromised. But they refused and did not allow us to take the flight," Singh said.

"We have reported the matter to the Indian embassy in Rome. There are around 40 Gurdwaras in Italy and we were here to attend the International Sikh Dastar (Turban) Awareness Day at the invitation of the Sikh Channel (UK) at Cremona," he added.

A statement issued by DSGMC office in Delhi quoted Singh: "The Indian embassy in Rome intervened with the local officials and airport administration at the highest level but their efforts were unsuccessful. The Italian embassy in New Delhi and the Indian embassy in Rome had been informed about the visit of this delegation to Italy," Singh said.

The Italians insisted on removing the turbans despite having accepted it as a religious symbol in 2011. Italy had at that time declared that Sikhs will not have to remove their turbans at airports for security screening, after strong protests by Sikhs and the Indian government.

The announcement was made by the Italian interior ministry after then external affairs minister S M Krishna took up the matter with his Italian counterpart Franco Fattini in Rome in June, 2011. This followed a number of incidents involving Sikhs being asked to take off their turbans at Italian airports

Italy says sensitive to Sikhs’ concerns
India takes up turban issue, Italian Ambassador called to the foreign office
Ashok Tuteja & Perneet Singh
Tribune News Service

Description: Description: — Manjit Singh GK, DSGMC chiefNew Delhi/Amritsar, August 8

Italy today reassured India that it was sensitive to the concerns of the Sikh community in the wake of a controversy after a Sikh delegation was held up at Rome airport and members asked to remove their turbans. This was conveyed by Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini to Sudhir Vyas, Secretary (West) in the External Affairs Ministry, when he was called to the foreign office to impress upon Rome the sensitivity of the situation, official sources said.

The Sikh delegation, which included Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) president Manjit Singh GK, had been stopped at Rome airport on August 6.

After the Indian mission in Rome took up the matter, the Italian foreign office intervened with the Rome airport authorities and “facilitated the departure of the Sikh delegation without insisting on removing the turbans”. The delegation left for Dubai late Wednesday night through the VIP lounge, said the sources.

Mancini conveyed to the Indian official that there was a large Sikh population in Italy and that the authorities there “are sensitive to the concerns of the Sikh community on such matters”.

“He also mentioned that strict guidelines have been issued for officials to follow in such matters. He also assured that he would once again convey the sensitivity of the issue to the Italian authorities,” the sources said.

Talking to The Tribune on phone from Dubai, Manjit Singh said the episode would help in bringing more awareness about the Sikh sensitivities. “The people have now started speaking up. Ever since it happened to me I have come across various individuals who told me that their turban was also removed at one or the other airport abroad. However, they don’t take a stand as they either have business engagements or permanent residency issues.”

On how it felt getting such a treatment despite being the DSGMC chief, he said, “The only thought came to my mind at that time was that if this could happen to me what the common Sikhs would have been going through at these airports.” Interestingly, Manjit wasn’t asked for turban frisking when he landed in Italy or later when he boarded a flight from Milan to Rome. When asked whether he was targeted at Rome, he simply said “it may have been a mischief”.

Narrating the turn of events, GK said, “I along with four other members of the DSGMC team reached the airport on Tuesday night to board a plan to Dubai scheduled for 1.20 am (Italy time). We collected our boarding passes and proceeded for security check where we passed through metal detector. They asked us to take off our belts and shoes, which we did. Later, they told us that ‘you will have to remove your hat’. We told them it is not a hat but a turban and we can’t take it off.”

However, the airport official remained adamant, saying it was a procedure and they could not allow them to board the flight without this. He said he told the official that they can touch the turban and use a metal detector on it.

He said they wanted to remove turbans of all five of them. “We told them that our visas specifically mentioned that we’re here for a turban awareness event, but still this is how we’re being treated,” he said.

Incidentally, Manjit had called up Indian Ambassador Basant Kumar Gupta the same day. He contacted the embassy and spoke to First Secretary, Amit Verma, who got in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs.

In the meantime, the DSGMC members in Delhi also took up the matter with the Italian embassy. After missing the scheduled flight, they wished to take the next flight at 3.30 pm (Italy time), but were told that it will take time to resolve the issue.

He said he finally got a call at 6 pm, informing him that the matter has been resolved.

GK was all praise for the overwhelming support that he received from the Sikhs in Europe and other countries.