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Updated: December 10, 2010 03:26 IST

Indian embassy taking up Ambassador "pat down" with State Department

Narayan Lakshman
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Meera Shankar, Indian Ambassador to United States. File photo
The Hindu Meera Shankar, Indian Ambassador to United States. File photo

She was taken to a waiting room "despite the staff being told that she was an Ambassador"

An official of the Indian embassy in Washington confirmed to The Hindu that Indian Ambassador to the United States, Meera Shankar, was subjected to a “pat down” at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Mississippi and that “in all likelihood she was singled out because she was in a sari.”

Following External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s description of the episode as “unacceptable,” the embassy official here further confirmed that the matter was being taken up with the State Department. A State Department official did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

According to reports Ms. Shankar, who was returning to Washington from an event at Mississippi State University was about to board a flight to Baltimore when she was taken to a waiting room “despite staff being told that she was an ambassador.”

She was then reported to have been pulled from an airport security line and put through a hands-on frisking by a female Transportation Security Administration agent.

Reports also said the organisers of the event that Ms. Shankar had attended expressed dismay at the episode. Janos Radvanyi, Chair of the University’s International Studies Department was quoted as saying, “It was a wonderful programme, maybe the best we have had, (but) this stupid incident ruined the whole thing.”

He added, “She said, ‘I will never come back here.’ We are sending her a letter of apology,” noting also that Ms. Shankar was “very upset,” and that the incident would be “very bad for Mississippi.”

USA Today quoted Tan Tsai, a research associate at MSU who was at the scene, saying, “She is a very strong woman, but you could see in her face that she was humiliated... Indian culture is very modest.”

The newspaper further wrote that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s office was looking into the incident, with the Governor’s spokesman Dan Turner saying, “At this time, we are trying to find out exactly what happened – all of the details. He added that until the office has done a complete review, it would be inappropriate to comment on what action may be taken.

As per recent guidelines for security screening at airports, which have also been engulfed in controversy relating to the use of full-body scanners, there is said to be no express exemption for foreign diplomats; however they “allow for discretion on the part of TSA officers.”

Regarding “pat downs” the TSA website notes, “In order to ensure security, this inspection may include sensitive areas of the body... You may request that your pat-down inspection be conducted in private.”

Unacceptable: Krishna

Sandeep Dikshit writes from New Delhi:

Mr. Krishna termed the incident “unacceptable.” This would be taken up with Washington, he said.

“This is unacceptable to India and we are going to take it up with the U.S. government and I hope things could be resolved so that such unpleasant incidents do not recur,” he told journalists.

“I am rather surprised by the way the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. has been treated. This has happened for a second time in three months. There are various procedures through which we take it up with government of the U.S.,” he said.

Mr. Krishna pointed out that there were “certain well-established conventions, well-established practices as to how members of diplomatic corps are treated in a given country.”

The Minister hoped India's cordial relationship with the U.S. would continue and be taken forward.

According to a source in the Ministry of External Affairs, Ms. Shankar was singled out from among 30 passengers and put through a public “pat down” at the airport.

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