Airport journeys can be stressful for anyone. But walking through airport security as a bearded and turbaned Sikh can be an ordeal.
When you’re always selected for random security checks, they don’t seem so random after all – especially when you’re the only one pulled aside while travelling with others not wearing turbans.
These security checks usually only take an extra ten to fifteen minutes, but their psychological impact far outlasts this brief encounter, particularly when security staff leave you feeling belittled and disrespected.
When a security worker clearly waits for you to pick up your luggage so they can examine you, letting ten people walk past in the mean time, you start feeling you’re constantly under surveillance.
When it seems you’re targeted simply because of your dress, your faith, your ethnicity, you start to question whether you fit into society. It’s these kinds of small incidents, experienced repeatedly, that can drive young Sikhs to stop wearing their beards and turbans entirely.
Particularly for older Sikhs with limited English, being held up for longer than everyone else and bombarded with questions is intimidating and confusing. In fact, members of the Australian Sikh community often arrange for someone to accompany their parents on flights to guide them through the security process.
With Sikhism being Australia’s fastest growing religion, such incidents are bound to happen increasingly as more Sikhs migrate to Australia. When their relatives come to visit, their first impressions of Australia are shaped by the often-humiliating process of a security check – hardly reflecting a multicultural Australia that embraces all.
I fully support the important work airport security staff do to keep everyone safe. But by targeting those who are visibly different, they may be letting actual security threats slip through the cracks – who don’t necessarily fit the stereotypes of what a ‘terrorist’ looks like.
Ultimately, problems like this often arise from a lack of awareness. Security workers may be unfamiliar with the Sikh articles of faith and see turbans as mere fashion accessories, unaware tying a turban is an art that can take fifteen minutes each time. They may not know asking a Sikh to remove their turban – a religious crown, the most sacred object on their body – is highly disrespectful. And with the threat of terrorism always looming large, being visibly different makes you an easy target for suspicion.
Being disproportionately targeted by airport security is one of the many forms of indirect racism Sikhs face that makes us feel unwelcome. But if awareness of different faiths is included in security training – and awareness about Sikhs is spread more broadly – this unfair treatment could become a thing of the past.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com] 18433
Aussie Sikh boy wins right to wear turban at Christian school (Asia Samachar, 19 Sept 2017)
Census reveals meteoric rise of Sikhism in Australia – SBS (Asia Samachar, 27 June 2017)
Sava-Lakh: Aussie Sikhs come of age (Asia Samachar, 4 July 2017)