India: Sari Is Not A Terrorist Outfit

Ambassador Meera Shankar of the Republic of India presents credentials to US President Barack Obama. Photo by Lawrence Jackson, courtesy of US Department Of State. From Public Domain.

The Indian ambassador to the United States Meera Shankar was pulled from a security line at the Jackson-Evers International Airport in Mississippi, USA, and was subsequently forced to undergo a pat-down body search by a Transport Security Administration (TSA) agent. On December 4, 2010 Shankar was about to board a flight to Baltimore after attending a Mississippi State University programme and although she did not set off the airport's metal detectors, she was singled out on grounds that she was wearing a sari, India's national dress. She mentioned her diplomatic status, but it did not stop the ordeal in front of the other passengers. Last September, Shankar underwent a similar pat-down in Chicago.

The incident sparked strong protests from India. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said that the incident is not good public diplomacy shown by USA and India's Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna reiterated that this is unacceptable to India. Indian opposition party BJP has demonstrated near the US Embassy in India demanding apology from US. The blogosphere is also buzzing with reactions as details are emerging.

There were mixed responses from the US authorities. The US Department Of State has reached out to the ambassador regretting the incident. However, according to news sources, TSA defended their action mentioning that diplomats are not exempted from the searches and that Shankar was “screened in accordance with TSA's security policies and procedures”. It may be mentioned here that not all passengers are subject to pat downs, only those passengers who set off the metal alarm have to go through the screening, and “Ms. Shankar had passed through the metal frame without setting off the alarm”. The US border search exception rule asserts that the officer must have reasonable suspicion or prior information to believe the search will reveal threat or contraband, and may have to have a higher standard or court-reviewed warrant for some of the more invasive searches.

The ambassador visibly felt humiliated as she was searched openly, inside a transparent booth. Pavani at Sepia Mutiny writes:

The airport involved did not have the new body scanners available so that option was out for the ambassador. But a clear box hardly sounds private enough for anyone uncomfortable enough to request a private search. And if simply wearing a sari is going to trigger a serious full-body pat-down, then an actual private option should be offered, as it should be to anyone requesting a private search.

Vivek comments on the above post:

One item that didn't make it into any of the news stories was that a TSA official, Anna Dushas, tried removing Shankar's sari before her supervisor, Kris (we only know her first name), intervened.

The incident shows the ignorance about the Sari, the national outfit of many South Asian countries which is worn by millions of women in this region and all over the world. A comment at perhaps shows how many Americans feel about Sari:

Wear the garb of a terrorist and you should expect to be searched. Good work TSA.

Bhai wonders:

What the reaction of the Americans would be should any of their officials (senators, ambassadors…) are subjected to a similar search in India?

Rajeev at Random Thoughts opines:

Rather than whine about it, we in India, need to take lessons from their security procedures and subject everyone to stringent security checks in our environment too. In matters of our country's security we should not be bothered about others’ opinions!!


  • I live in America and the people here are about the most ignorant on the planet. Remember after 9/11 when a man in Arizona killed a Sikh because he was too stupid to know the difference between a Turban and a Kaffiyeh? There’s a reason American education is so far behind the rest of the world and companies in Silicon Valley have to import intelligent help. Most white Americans,especially Republicans, are ignorant,uneducated,and happy about it. I can’t wait until they are all unemployed so this country has no tax base to meddle in the affairs of other countries. We’re almost to that point now. America’s ignorant masses will be it’s downfall.

    • benn

      I hope you’re enjoying your stay in the US. I’m glad that you feel comfortable enough here to openly mock us. However, I want to warn you against stereotyping, which is precisely the sort of ignorance that you seem to abhor.

  • satyan

    This incident shows the typical American in-sensitiveness to world. I strongly feel that we should do the same thing to make them understand the sordid taste of this.

  • muhsin vk

    the american political environment is going violent especially in this decade. actually they are now the worlds most fearest country towards thier own forign policy…so that they willn’t take consider about others mental disturbance and other country’s cultural behaviours and tradition. i egerly asking one question to them,would you have cultural or traditional diversity that you have your self? our replay to this incident shouldn’t be in words, it must be through rejecting their invitations.

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