Washington: Sikhs in the US have complained of ethnic profiling after airport authorities forced community members to remove their turbans for security checks in the wake of a new federal policy that subjects travellers wearing headgear to additional scrutiny.
"The federal government has equated our most precious article of faith with terrorism," said Amardeep Singh, the executive director of the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group for Sikhs.
"It sends a message that the turban is dangerous. It sends a wrong message to society," he said. A Sikh businessman, Prabhjit Singh, said he was made to leave the screening line when he balked at the secondary search at Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
"The supervisor made me feel like I had done something wrong," said the businessman, a motivational speaker from Maryland. "I felt for the first time in America that I had been targeted, and it was because of the way I looked," he was quoted as saying by The New York Times.
The fact that the policy was put into effect without consulting Sikhs also rankled the Sikh Coalition, which puts the number of Sikhs in the US at 280,000.
The Transportation Security Administration, which adopted and is enforcing the policy, said it was aimed not just at turbans but at any headgear and that it was one of the periodic adjustments made to address changing threats.
The change allows for screeners to pat down anyone who is wearing a hat or other head covering, even if the person clears a metal detector.
The change was part of several new security measures initiated on August 4, but the change regarding headgear was not publicised and came to light only after many Sikh passengers underwent additional screenings.