NEW DELHI: Delhi’s gurdwara management committee president Manjeet Singh GK and other members of a Sikh delegation were not cleared to board a flight from Rome after they refused to take off their turbans at the airport security check on Tuesday.
Manjeet Singh, who is also Delhi chief of Akali Dal (Badal), told TOI that the delegation had offered to let the staff touch their turbans and run a metal detector over it, but the Italian security insisted on them taking the turbans off.
The issue led to Sikhs protesting outside the Italian embassy in Delhi on Wednesday and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal saying he would take up the matter with the Prime Minister.
Badal on Wednesday urged the central government to mount pressure on foreign countries so that turbans worn by Sikh travellers are not ordered removed for security checks at airports. “Removal of turban in the name of security check in foreign countries is a direct assault on Sikh identity. Any disrespect to the identity in any form is not tolerable,” Badal said.
Ironically, Manjeet Singh was leading a delegation of the Delhi Shiromani Gurudwara Management Committee for participating in a turban awareness day to Italy. While the Sikh community is irked, Manjeet Singh had returned to the airport on Wednesday evening in another attempt to catch the flight home.
Speaking to TOI over phone, Singh described the attitude of the security personnel at Rome airport as insensitive. He said when the staff asked him to remove his turban, he tried to tell them that this was not possible as it defied the teachings of Sikhism.
“But they refused to understand. We even offered that the staff could touch the turban on the head and run a metal detector over it to ensure that security was compromised. But they refused and did not allow us to take the flight,” Singh said.
“We have reported the matter to the Indian embassy in Rome. There are around 40 gurdwaras in Italy and we were here to attend the International Sikh Dastar (Turban) Awareness Day at the invitation of the Sikh Channel (UK) at Cremona,” he added.
A statement issued by DSGMC office in Delhi quoted Singh: “The Indian embassy in Rome intervened with the local officials and airport administration at the highest level but their efforts were unsuccessful. The Italian embassy in New Delhi and the Indian embassy in Rome had been informed about the visit of this delegation to Italy,” Singh said.
The Italians insisted on removing the turbans despite having accepted it as a religious symbol in 2011. Italy had at that time declared that Sikhs will not have to remove their turbans at airports for security screening, after strong protests by Sikhs and the Indian government.
The announcement was made by the Italian interior ministry after then external affairs minister S M Krishna took up the matter with his Italian counterpart Franco Fattini in Rome in June, 2011. This followed a number of incidents involving Sikhs being asked to take off their turbans at Italian airports.