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Sikh body appeals Manmohan Singh to apprise Polish PM about insulting treatment to Sikhs at Poland airports

UK based Network of Sikhs Organizations (NSO) has appealed to India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to make members of a Polish delegation aware of the insensitive and unnecessary and insulting treatment to Sikhs at airports in Poland.

In an e-mail sent to this correspondent Dr Indarjit Singh, Director NSO informed that a Polish Trade delegation to India led by Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk will be leaving for India on September 5 and after a stop in Bangalore, will travel to New Delhi meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 7 at the Indo Polish Summit .

He hoped Dr Manmohan Singh’s intervention will result in the Polish PM’s firmly informing airport security staff to show greater sensitivity to the Sikh community, that even has an officially registered Gurdwara in Warsaw.

He alleged that the behaviour of security staff at airports goes well beyond stated European Court (EC) procedures and constitutes nothing less than undue harassment.

He also appealed people to send their emails and letters to Prime Minister and External Affairs Preneet Kaur to do needful.

He said Polish airport authorities are persistently harassing Sikhs by making it mandatory that every Sikh removes his turban, which is being treated by them as ‘hand baggage’, despite there being no alarm sounding off as they pass through passenger scanners. 

Despite extensive correspondence with them over the last year, face to face official meetings and even interventions made by many prominent people, including the Polish Ambassador in India, and the Indian Ambassador in Poland, the security staff have remained entirely insensitive to reason.

He said Sikhs fully understand the importance of security and fully endorse it. However, we see no reason why security staff should not first utilise other routinely available check procedures, such as hand held security devices, pat down on the turbans, and “puffer machine” tests, as conducted in the UK, USA and other airports. If concern still remains, Sikhs do not object to being taken to a private screened area where the turban can be removed, sensitively checked and retied.

However, Polish security staff show no understanding of Sikh religious needs and stubbornly refuse to make any such prior checks, he added.

Dr Indarjit Singh said his organisation last month had received the terse plea from Shaminder Singh Puri, who is Secretary General of an international scientific organization in which it was mentioned that in a harsh and questionable interpretation of a European Union Directive, Sikhs at Polish airports are being asked to remove their turbans and place them on the conveyor belt like hand luggage for examination. Much the same is now happening in Spain and this could easily spread to other countries.

This is clearly an insult to all Sikhs and must be stopped. The hope was that this total lack of sensitivity, which goes way beyond the needs of security, was simply a result of ignorance.

Dr Indarjit Singh informed that on the advice of the NSO, every effort has been made to engage the Polish authorities in discussion to explain the unique significance of the turban to Sikhs. 

He said, "we accepted the need for security and were willing to submit to checks with hand held metal detectors and hand pat downs, and, if there was still reason for concern that the wearer was carrying any one of the forty or so forbidden items that are listed in the EC Regulation, to removal and examination of the turban in a private area. Sadly, the Polish authorities have proved totally insensitive to Sikh concerns."

He said following detailed discussions between the NSO, Puri and other Sikhs in Poland and advice from Human Rights Lawyers Bindman and Partners, it has been decided not to approach the European Court of Human Rights direct, but through a court in Poland where the chances of success are considered good. 

He said following success in Poland, it will be much easier to ask the European Court of Human Rights to make the Polish decision binding on all European countries. He said polish lawyers have been engaged and a case can be lodged by mid September.

He said "This is a fight we must win and to do so we need careful preparation and action. Much of the initial court action will be borne by the Helsinki Foundation, a human rights NGO active in Europe, with Polish lawyers acting on a pro bono basis". 

However associated costs of securing suitable experts fluent in Polish to give evidence, mobilise Polish and Indian public opinion, a subsequent approach to the European Court of Human Rights etc. could amount to some ten to fifteen thousand pounds, he added.


Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh
SJ315201003
City: Kolkata 
Country: India
Date: September 23, 2010
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