India to protest envoy’s US ‘pat down’ search, wants apology

Thursday, December 9, 2010

NEW DELHI - India Thursday termed as unacceptable the pat down search Indian ambassador Meera Shankar was subjected to in the US, the second time in three months, and said it will take up the issue with Washington.

“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,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters here.

“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,” said Krishna.

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

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

Government sources said that the external affairs ministry has sent a demarche to the US over the issue and is expecting an apology for this “unacceptable” behaviour by the US authorities.

The ministry is also looking for an assurance from the US that this kind of behaviour is not repeated in the future and Indian diplomats are not subjected to additional screenings, said the sources.

On Dec 4, Shankar was subjected to a rigorous public “pat down” at the Jackson-Evers 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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