Britain has delayed implementation of new European Union (EU) airport security rules for hand searches of passengers after concerns from the Sikh community that this could also mean searches of their religious headgear, officials on Thursday said.
Consultations are currently going on with the Sikh community over the issue, a spokesperson of the the British transport department told IANS.
At present, passengers walk through metal detectors at airports in Britain and, if the alarm goes off, they are then searched again with hand-held metal detectors. The new rules, implemented all over the EU, instead tell security staff to use their hands for the second checks. Sikhs are concerned it could mean hand checks of turbans or demands for the religious headwear to be removed.
"We have written to airports to advise them to continue using the previous methods of screening religious headwear. These methods do not require all headgear to be touched. We will then work with the airport industry and religious communities to find an acceptable long-term solution to this issue," the department spokesperson said.
According to Daily Mail, a spokesperson for Birmingham International Airport said: "On Thursday the Department for Transport advised all UK airports to continue using the previous methods of screening religious headwear, which eliminates the need to carry out hand searches. We have reacted accordingly."
The Sikh Federation is worried that the new EU security rules will mean more embarrassment and upset at airports. The federation's Dabinderjit Singh said: "It is disrespectful for anyone else to touch the turban other than the individual (wearer) themselves. It is almost a humiliation. It is very difficult to describe when someone touches your turban. Sikhs regard it as a crown."
Wearing a turban is protected by British law, following a landmark ruling by the House of Lords in 1983 in a case in which a Birmingham teenager was refused entry to a school because of his turban.
It is not clear how long it will take before the transport department recommends any changes to the EU rules. Another issue is that the EU rarely changes its regulations and, when it does, it can often take years. The Sikh Federation fears the issue has the potential to flare up because the new rules are in force in other European countries.
"The reports that we've had from France and Italy in the last few weeks is that Sikhs are being asked to remove their turbans," Singh said.