Sikh-American teenager Karanveer Singh Pannu, author of the book "Bullying of Sikh American Children: Through the Eyes of a Sikh American High School Student," was forced to remove his turban by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel at Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, California, Sunday night, he told NBC News.
"I had gone to talk about my book as an inspirational speaker to address all the kids participating in the annual Sikh Youth Symposium — a public speaking competition being held in Bakersfield, California," Pannu said. He also spoke at the Sikh Peace Parade in Bakersfield, he said.
Pannu said that after going through the metal detector at the airport, he was asked to do a self-pat down of his turban and a chemical swab test for explosive material. After a positive swab test, he was taken to a secondary screening room to be given a full pat down and was asked to remove his turban to be further scanned.
"I refused at first but when they threatened me that I could not fly, I agreed, provided they gave me a mirror to retie my turban," Pannu said. "Before I removed my turban, Agent Hernandez asked the dreaded asinine question, 'Is there anything we need to be aware of before you remove your turban?' I politely answered that there is a lot of long hair and something called the brain underneath."
A TSA spokesperson told NBC News that the TSA declines to comment on the specifics of any individual passenger's screening experience, but that all TSA officers and contracted screeners are trained to treat all passengers with dignity and respect and receive periodic training regarding cultural and religious sensitivities. When additional screening requires the removal of religious apparel, officers offer a private room. In 2007, TSA revised its screening procedures for head coverings based on discussions with the Sikh community.
Pannu said he felt "utterly humiliated, shaken, distraught" by the experience.