Popular Sikh star Waris Ahluwalia was blocked from boarding a New York-bound Aero Mexico flight Monday morning after he refused to remove his turban for a security check.
Ahluwalia, a New York actor and designer, told the Daily News that security personnel held him back until everyone else had boarded the 7:15 a.m. flight from Mexico City before searching his bag, swabbing him and patting him down to the soles of his feet.
Ahluwalia, who has appeared in 17 films, including “Inside Man,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” said he complied with the “annoying” security measures, but drew the line when he was asked to remove his turban.
“That is not something that I would do in public,” he explained. “That’s akin to asking someone to take off their clothes.”
Ahluwalia said he asked to be taken to a private screening room, but was denied.
“You will not be flying Aero Mexico,” an airline employee told him, Ahluwalia said. “You will need to book another flight.”
“I was shaking at first,” he said. “That’s not a nice thing to be told, that you are not allowed to fly on this plane because of something you are wearing, or because of your religious beliefs.”
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in India’s Punjab region in the 15th century that encourages a life of spirituality and service. The turban symbolizes a man or woman’s commitment to the faith.
“Wearing a turban is not optional. We don’t put it on and take it off when we please,” explains Simran Jeet Singh, senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition. “The turban represents our commitment to justice, to service and to faith.”
Singh argues that the current security screening processes, such as patting down a Sikh’s turban or asking him to take it off, are “humiliating and dehumanizing.”
The Monday incident came after Ahluwalia learned he had been singled out for a more-intensive search, known as “Secondary Security Screening Selection” and indicated by four big “S” letters on a passenger’s boarding card.
The “SSSS” indicates to security personnel that the customer has been flagged for enhanced pat-downs, having their possessions swabbed and tested for explosive residue, and being wanded by a hand-held metal detector.
The “SSSS” designation is supposedly random, but no one believes that it is.
“I’ve had the magic ‘SSSS’ before,” Ahluwalia, 41, told the News. “I’m really lucky on my ‘random’ selection.”
After missing the flight home, Ahluwalia posted a selfie with his plane ticket on Instagram. He captioned it: “This morning in Mexico City I was told I could not board my @aeromexico flight to NYC because of my turban.” He used the hashtags #FearisanOpportunitytoEducate #humanrights #dignity #lovenotfear.