December 13, 2010

MEA summons US diplomat over 'pat-down' search of Shankar

The sari is a most elegant attire and we are proud of our national apparel, but a security officer, with instructions to be wary of "bulky clothing", may look at it with suspicion. Knowing nothing about ambassadors or the delicate state of India-US relations, the officer concerned decided to order a "pat-down", apparently a humiliating method of search. Such a thing will never happen in India because our security culture is subjective. As in other things, we choose the law which is most appropriate for the person concerned. Security is a science in the US, it is an art here. Political leaders have breezed through security with live bullets in their hand bags. When the artist fails, an explosion occurs. TP Sreenivasan



PTI, Dec 11, 2010, 04.03pm IST

NEW DELHI: India on Saturday lodged a strong protest with the US for subjecting ambassador Meera Shankar to 'pat-down' security check at an American airport as deputy chief of US embassy here was summoned to the ministry of external affairs.

Donald Lu was called in by Javed Ashra, joint secretary (Americas) in the MEA, at 12.30pm to convey "strong concern" over screening of Shankar at the Mississippi Airport on December 4, sources said.

The US official was told that the action was "contrary to the normal diplomatic practice and inconsistent with the excellent relations that India and the US enjoy", the sources said.

Ashraf referred to external affairs minister S M Krishna's assertion that such incidents are "unacceptable" and said the US state departmentand the transportation security administration (TSA) should sensitise all their agents at all the airports to ensure proper privileges and courtesies are extended to Indian ambassador and diplomats.

"Despite the fact that the Indian mission had followed state department guidelines for expeditious clearance for the ambassador, she was escorted by the TSA officials.

"She had pointed her diplomatic identity but had to undergo the security checks because, as we have been informed, she was wearing a sari," Ashraf told the American diplomat.

The Indian official told Lu, "we understand and respect every country's security procedure but we also expect that normal diplomatic privileges and courtesies are extended to the ambassador and diplomats."

The American diplomat was told that India expects that the state department and the TSA would "sensitise all its agents at all its airports to cultural and religious sensitivities of foreign diplomats."

Ashraf pointed out that India respects the privileges of foreign diplomats in India and extends diplomatic courtesies to them. "Such incidents naturally lead to calls for review of privileges and facilities given in India (to foreign diplomats)," he said.

Will American diplomacy stop targeting the saree?


Meera Shankar
The US has expressed regret over the pat-down search of Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar at Mississippi airport.

Ministry of External Affairs on Saturday summoned US Deputy Chief of Mission Donald Liu to protest against pat-down search of Indian Ambassador to US Meera Shankar at an airport in Mississippi.

Lu was called in by Jawed Ashraf, Joint Secretary (Americas) in the MEA, to convey "strong concern" over screening of Shankar at Jackson airport on December 4.

The US official was told that the action was "contrary to the normal diplomatic practice and inconsistent with the excellent relations that India and the US enjoy.

Ashraf referred to External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's assertion that such incidents are "unacceptable" and said the US State Department and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should sensitise all their agents at all the airports to ensure proper privileges and courtesies are extended to Indian Ambassador and diplomats.

“Under the diplomatic protocol, ambassador of countries are entitled to expeditious process that does entail primary screening. In this context, the Indian Embassy had already informed the concerned department,” Ashraf told Lu.


“The state (Mississippi State) protocol was also informed that day that the ambassador was travelling and she was escorted by the state protocol.”

“The ambassador had presented her diplomatic papers but had to undergo the security checks because, as we have been informed, she was wearing a sari," Ashraf told the American diplomat.

Shankar underwent primary screening but despite that she was subjected to secondary screening as none of the security officials present at the airport had seen someone wearing a saree.

Ashraf pointed out that India respects the privileges of foreign diplomats in India and extends diplomatic courtesies to them.

"Such incidents naturally lead to calls for review of privileges and facilities given in India (to foreign diplomats)," he said.

While publicly US may say that correct procedure was followed, privately the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is very concerned that such an incident took place. After the incident, the Americans are now expected to issue fresh guidelines so that saree wearing people are not targeted. (With PTI inputs)



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