Comment: Airports must treat turban-wearing Sikhs with respect

Paul Uppal is the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West.
Paul Uppal is the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West.

Hand-searching Sikh turbans is deeply disrespectful. British airports must offer an alternative.
By Paul Uppal MP
The world seems to be in a challenging season. There are natural disasters and government instability all over the globe. Security checks have become a way of life and will be for the foreseeable future. Now we as citizens of this challenged world are tasked with finding the balance between security and freedom. Problems have arisen in the past few months regarding the hand searches of Sikh turbans in airports based on new EU regulations. Under the EU regulations, airport security is allowed to insist on a hand search of the turban if the passenger in question either sets off the metal detector or is chosen at random for a search.
I am a Sikh, though I d o not wear the traditional turban. But my father is turbaned and I do understand why the Sikh community was greatly distressed at the thought of having their turban either publicly hand-searched or in some cases removed. This is seen as deeply disrespectful in the Sikh culture and it is received by most as a humiliating breach of their personal privacy.
The Department for Transport has taken the lead in trying to rectify the situation in establishing a trail that would have airports offer swabbing of the turban for explosive residue as well as hand-held metal detectors as options for those individuals who need to be searched. This trial was well received by the Sikh community but is still not the norm in airports. The trial is optional in airports, but even in the participating airports, some staff are loathe to allow Sikh passengers the option.
I am proud that our government has advocated on this issue and been working to put in place alternatives without sacrificing the safety of its citizens. The minister has been both helpful and proactive initiating these options which began appearing in airports soon after the problem arose. I want there to be more encouragements for airports to participate and much more awareness among both passengers as well as staff that there are other options. I think that the UK should lead the way in all of the EU for treating the turban-wearing Sikhs with respect in our airports and then encouraging other nations to do the same.
There is still much discussion among Sikhs regarding this issue and many MPs are being contacted by Sikhs in their constituency, which is why I have sponsored the Westminster Hall debate that is taking place today. Hopefully we can get clarification on the things which still remain ambiguous as well as enter into a frank discussion amongst both ourselves and the minister on what we feel needs to happen in the future.
The current trial is not a long-term solution and there are still screening problems at both airports in the UK as well as all over the world. It is my hope that the swab test is the standard for testing all over Europe in the near future and that it is offered first rather than the attempt to force people into a hand search. There is always hope for tomorrow. There is new technology being developed all the time from x-ray machines to more sophisticated swab tests that could make this problem a thing of the past. But until that happens we must work together to increase both awareness in the Sikh community regarding their rights to ask for a swab test as well as in airports to ensure that all passengers are treated with respect regardless of their choice of religious dress.
Most importantly in the aftermath of 9/11 two individuals were killed in the US after reprisal attacks because they were turbaned. Their appearance was similar in their attackers' minds to that of a stereotypical terrorist. We in Britain have a rich and deep historical perspective of the Sikh contribution to British history; it would be remiss of me not to remind our European partners of that contribution.
Paul Uppal is the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West.
The opinions in's Speakers Corner are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.


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