Indian Decade

Racial Profiling or Reasonable?

The pat-down searches of Meera Shankar and Hardeep Puri have caused outrage in India. Should they?

Over the past couple of weeks, much ink has been spilled in India over the news of the pat-down searches that two of India's senior most diplomats, both based in the United States, were subjected to while taking domestic flights there.

The fact that Ambassador Meera Shankar, India's envoy to the United States, was dressed in a saree, and that Hardeep Puri, our permanent envoy to the United Nations, is a Sikh who wears a turban, has prompted allegations that the pat-downs were due to racial profiling. Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna told the media that the issue had been taken up with US authorities.

Many in India have taken the issue personally, with some people suggesting that the US ambassador to India should also be frisked. But I think one US-based commentator hit the nail on the head recently during a TV discussion on the subject when he said he was confident that Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, would have no problem conforming to any security procedures in India. He added that regrettably in the modern world, falling in line with security regulations was something all global citizens must be prepared to do.

So, are we Indians too sensitive? News of celebrities, government officials or, in this case, senior diplomats, being subjected to searches causes much heartache here. Is it an over-reaction that emanates from our deeply-entrenched VIP culture in which some groups of people are considered beyond procedures or rules?

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Of course, the United States must ensure that its security infrastructure is sensitised against targeted racial profiling. But can we possibly give them a list of ‘touch-me-nots’ from India?