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Outrage at patting down of Indian envoy in US
Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington

Meera Shankar
Meera Shankar

India’s ambassador in Washington, Meera Shankar, was subjected to a humiliating pat-down by security officers at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Jackson, Mississippi, last weekend. The incident was reported by the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson on Wednesday. Shankar travelled to Jackson on the invitation of Janos Radvanyi, chair in International Security Studies at Mississippi State University (MSU).

Controversial, new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that went into effect on November 1 allows security officers at airports to conduct “pat-downs” of passengers. These new guidelines do not exempt foreign diplomats. However, such searches are conducted at the discretion of TSA officers.

Shankar reportedly presented her diplomatic papers to officers and was escorted by a Mississippi Development Authority representative and an airport security officer. But she was nevertheless pulled aside for a pat-down.

“The way they pat them down - it was so humiliating,” Tan Tsai, a research associate at MSU’s International Security Studies Centre who witnessed the screening, told the Clarion-Ledger. “Anybody who passed by could see it.” She said Shankar was the only one of about two dozen passengers pulled aside for the screening.

According to the TSA, pat-downs are used to resolve alarms at the checkpoint, including those triggered by metal detectors. Shankar reportedly did not set off the metal detector. TSA states on its web page that because pat-downs are specifically used to resolve alarms and prevent dangerous items from going on a plane, the vast majority of passengers will not receive a pat-down at the checkpoint.

“I know authorities have established stricter rules for the holiday season, but I don’t understand why she was singled out,” said Radvanyi, who also witnessed the search.

Passengers have the right to ask to be screened in private and Shankar reportedly did so, but she was led to a clear box where two officers searched her in clear view of other passengers. “She is a very strong woman, but you could see in her face that she was humiliated,” Tsai said.

The Indian Embassy declined to comment on the incident. However, Randvanyi said Shankar had told him she had no intention of returning to Mississippi. Witnesses said Shankar was told she was being subjected to a pat-down because she was dressed in a sari.

India to take up issue

New Delhi: Describing as ‘unacceptable’ the incident in which Indian Ambassador to the US was put through a ‘pat-down’ search at a US airport, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna today asserted that India would take up the matter with Washington strongly. “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 here. — TNS





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