Nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition urging the UK government to implement a law that would protect Sikhs from having their turbans removed at airport security checks. The calls come after a number of recent cases that saw Sikh men have their turbans removed at airports, with many of them accusing security staff of having showing a lack of sensitivity for their.
Since the petition has received more than 10,000 signatures, the UK government is now obliged to provide a response. However, the petition remains vague about exactly what should be done on the issue, going no further than urging Prime Minister David Cameron to implement a law "protecting the right of Sikhs" and raising the issue with international governments.
Mandeep Virdi, who started the petition, wrote: "Across the world at airports Sikhs are being asked to remove their turbans. The turban for Sikhs is a mandatory symbol of their faith and therefore to ask them to remove it is a direct infringement of their human right to religion [and] faith."
However, not everyone in the British-Sikh community has supported the petition. Gurjeet Singh, press officer for the Sikh Federation UK, noted that while the petition was well intended and was rapidly gaining popularity, there is already a European Union regulation that covers Sikhs' rights in this area.
Speaking to IBTimes UK, Singh said: "The UK government will point to the EU regulation on aviation security, where the Sikh Federation UK worked with the UK government to have the original regulation implemented and then changed across Europe to be the same as the UK. So the Sikh turban does not even need to be touched by hand, let alone removed."
In February 2013 an EU regulation was adopted to ensure respect for the Sikh turban by allowing alternative searching procedures at airports, such as Explosive Trace Detecion (ETD) technology and handheld metal detectors. This eliminated the need for "hand searches" and "patting downs", as well as the need for Sikhs to remove their turbans.
At the time, the UK government took the lead on the issue following extensive lobbying of the European Commissioner for Transport. A similar security procedure is also in place in the US, preventing Transportation Security Administration screeners from touching a Sikh turban without cause.
Singh said: "The main issue is to ensure proper implementation, training and awareness of those who work in security at airports across the globe. This is why you still get problems."
The Sikh Federation UK has issued guidelines for airport security staff on balancing sensitivity of Sikhs' religious beliefs, as well as continuing with a thorough safety check.