Refused To Remove his Turban in Public to Meet Federal Safety Requirements
Washington, DC: Indian American actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia, who gained fame as the first Sikh man to model for Gap and for his role in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ was flying back to attend the New York Fashion Week. Ahluwalia has had earlier run-ins at airports and with popular culture because of his attire and looks. The 2013 Gap advertisement had set off a social media discussion on what it means to be an ‘American’ as some billboards featuring Ahluwalia in a Make love campaign were defaced with racial slurs. Gap had responded by changing its Twitter background to the picture of Ahluwalia, to show solidarity and support.
In this latest instance, despite clearing additional security screening, Ahluwalia was barred from boarding the flight, for refusing to take off his turban in a public place. When Aeromexico tried to put him on another flight Ahluwalia says he realized that ‘I can't board the flight because if I walk away from this now, this could happen to anyone else, any other Sikh, Indian or anyone that doesn't fit their criteria of look. As much as I wanted to go home, I knew that this issue was bigger than myself and that I had a responsibility.’
Aeroméxico, the largest airline in Mexico, issued a statement on Feb. 8, saying that it was committed to carrying all passengers irrespective of religion or gender. However, it added that it was "required to meet federal safety requirements determined by the Air Transport Authority of the United States for review of selected passengers travelling to the United States" and that "it regrets the inconvenience that any passenger may perceive from the application of these procedures."
The civil rights group Sikh Coalition, which is representing Ahluwalia's case, has demanded a public apology from the airlines, along with staff training on how to screen passengers with religious headgear.
Sanjay Puri, Chairman of USINPAC, commented that, "Such incidents highlight the plight of passengers sporting beards and religious attire like turbans and other headwear undergoing airport security. The Sikh turban which is a symbol of social justice and equality is unfairly associated with terrorism. Clearly we need to do more to increase awareness and diversity training without compromising on airport security".
The US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) is the voice of over 3.2 million Indian- Americans and works on issues that concern the community. It supports candidates for local, state and federal office and encourages political participation by the Indian- American community. Visit www.usinpac.com for more details.