I missed my flight after checking in from Mumbai to Ahmedabad because the scanner at the security was not working. When the scanner got working, the security man disappeared to have tea. By the time he returned, the gates were closed and I was left stranded with my eight-year-old daughter. My fretting and fuming amused them. A couple of other passengers who had missed their flight to Kolkata said there was nothing I could do. Security forces have over-reaching powers. I then remembered my identity card as a diplomat issued by the Indian government. Within minutes, the security became deferential. Airlines people materialised, apologised. The VIP lounge was opened, I was escorted to the plane for a later flight and had a vehicle waiting for me when I landed in Ahmedabad.
|A passenger can be seen virtually unclothed to the team of security scrutinisers at some airports in US and London|
I am all for supporting any procedure that ensures safety of passengers. But today, the fear and the paranoia have become a tool for manipulation and a carte blanche for irresponsible behaviour. The recent bomb hoax to avoid missing a flight is one of the many examples. The other is the introduction of body scanners that can view the passenger with an X-ray vision sans the clothes worn. In what is already starting to happen in some airports in the USA as well as in Heathrow in London, the passengers can be seen virtually unclothed to the team of security scrutinisers, sitting in a separate room of the airport. Some human rights groups are crying foul for the violation of the right of privacy that the use of these machines in public places constitutes. Notwithstanding these objections, the French lower house of parliament has just voted the introduction of these machines on an experimental basis for the next three years at some selected airports.
And this is the point that leads me to the proposed ban of the burqa in France. The burqa has religious connotations as a dress form. When the head scarves were banned in schools in France, I had explained the reasons to Indian friends. French public schools are laique or secular. Overt religious display of any symbol of any religion is banned. This includes wearing the cross on a chain. This rule is applicable to all religions. But if you wish to wear anything outside the school premises, no legislation can prevent it. The debate then spread to wearing the turban for the Sikhs. Now it is the burqa.
The burqa has been linked to suppressing the liberty of women in France. But it was argued that some women wore it by choice. Then, a new argument took birth —it was for the general security of the masses. The socialists who have been opposing such a legislation have a tough time trying to find a counter-argument to this. The question is that when anyone can be undressed (even virtually) in public places for security reasons like for the air transport, how can anyone object to forcing every women to show their face in public, for the same security reasons?
As we see it, the problem may be more complex than it appears and cannot be reduced to a comparison between the ban of the burqa in western countries and that of the mini skirt in some traditionalist countries. Individual liberty fought an unequal match with public morality but now new legislations will be passed under the veil of public security!
The above article was published in the Ahmedabad Mirror on 13/02/2010