India to protest envoy’s ‘pat down’ search in US

Thursday, December 9, 2010

NEW DELHI - India will strongly take up the issue of Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar being put through a “pat down” search at a US airport, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said here Thursday and described the incident as “unacceptable”.

Let me be frank, this is unacceptable to India. We are going to take it up with the government of US that such unpleasant incidents do not recur, Krishna told reporters outside parliament.

He said that there were certain well-established conventions, well-established practices as to how members of diplomatic corps are treated in a given country.

I am rather surprised by the way the Indian ambassador to the US has been treated. This has happened for a second time in three months, he said.

The minister pointed out that India had a very cordial relationship with the US and hoped that the relationship was taken forward.

On Dec 4, Shankar was subjected to a rigorous public “pat-down” at the Jackson-Ever International airport after a visit as a guest of the Mississippi State University.

According to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Shankar was singled out from a group of 30 passengers and pulled aside. Witnesses told the paper that she was chosen as she was wearing a sari.

Apparently, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines do not have any exceptions for foreign dignitaries, but officers have the discretion to pick and choose, depending on whether they set off metal detectors, the newspaper said. The Indian ambassador did not set off any alarms.

At the same time, TSA allows additional screenings when passengers are wearing bulky clothing.

The Clarion-Ledger added that Shankar had asked for a private security check, but she was led to clear box for the “pat down” in public view.

“The way they pat them down - it was so humiliating,” said Tan Tsai, a research associate at MSU’s International Security Studies Center who witnessed the screening. “Anybody who passed by could see it.”

The office of Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said that they were looking into the incident. “At this time, we’re trying to find out exactly what happened - all of the details,” said the governor’s spokesperson, Dan Turner.

The state Lieutenant Governor, Phil Bryant, who had met with Shankar during her visit to the state, said that they regretted the outrageous way she was treated.

“Although I understand we need proper security measures to protect the passengers in US airports, I regret the outrageous way Indian Ambassador Shankar was treated by the TSA while visiting Jackson,” he said in an e-mail to Clarion-Ledger.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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