Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Wednesday, 30 June 2010 13:42 UK

Sikh concerns delay hand search plans at UK airports

By Dil Neiyyar
BBC Asian Network

Dabinderjit Singh
Dabinderjit Singh is worried for Sikhs because of new EU rules

The Department for Transport has delayed plans to bring in hand searches at UK airport security because of concerns from a Sikh group.

Sikhs are concerned it could mean hand checks of turbans or demands for the religious headwear to be removed.

The changes have already been implemented across the EU.

But a DfT spokesman said: "We have written to airports to advise them to continue using the previous methods of screening religious headwear."

She added: "These methods do not require all headgear to be touched.

"We will then work with the airport industry and religious communities to find an acceptable long-term solution to this issue."

At present, passengers walk through metal detectors at UK airports and, if the alarm goes off, they are then searched again with handheld metal detectors.

The new EU rules instead tell security staff to use their hands for the second checks.

It just felt as if we were treated as criminals and branded as potential terrorists just because we were wearing a turban
Vinder Singh

Sikhs believe the prospect of having their turbans checked by hand or removed in public is degrading.

Vinder Singh, a 41-year-old medical rep from Dudley in the West Midlands, fell foul of the new rules when travelling in Spain.

Even though he had not set off the alarm when passing through a metal detector at Barcelona airport, he was told to take his turban off in front of his work colleagues and other passengers.

"I allowed him to touch my turban, feel it and check it and yet he (security guard) wasn't satisfied." Vinder Singh said.

"I wasn't prepared to do anything further because he was still insisting that he wanted me to take my turban off and that, otherwise, I wouldn't be able to fly."

Eventually, he and three other Sikh colleagues made their own way home to England by train.

"It just felt as if we were treated as criminals and branded as potential terrorists just because of the fact that we were wearing a turban," he added.

'Considered a crown'

The Sikh Federation is worried that the new EU security rules will mean more embarrassment and upset at airports.

"It is disrespectful for anyone else to touch the turban other than the individual (wearer) themselves," said Dabinderjit Singh of the Sikh Federation.

"It is almost a humiliation. It is very difficult to describe when someone touches your turban. Sikhs regard it as a crown."

Wearing a turban is protected by British law. This follows a landmark ruling by the House of Lords in 1983 in a case in which a Birmingham teenager was refused entry to a school because of his turban.

The Department for Transport is in discussion with Sikhs to see if they can try to resolve the issue, with the first meeting taking place in central London today.

But the problem for Sikhs is that the EU rarely changes its regulations and, when it does, it can often take years.

In the meantime, Sikhs are bracing themselves for further problems.

"The reports that we've had from France and Italy in the last few weeks is that Sikhs are being asked to remove their turbans," added Dabinderjit Singh.

"That's the equivalent of having a strip search but having it in public."

You can hear more on this story on the BBC's Asian Network Reports radio show or via the BBC iPlayer.

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