India complains after emissary gets pat down in Mississippi

By The Associated Press

NEW DELHI — India’s foreign minister said Thursday it was unacceptable that the country’s ambassador to the United States was patted down by a security agent at a Mississippi airport, and said he would complain to Washington.

The ambassador, Meera Shankar, was returning from giving a speech at Mississippi State University last week when she was pulled out of line at the airport and given a pat down by a female Transportation Security Administration agent.

The Clarion-Ledger newspaper of Jackson, Mississippi, quoted witnesses as saying Shankar, who was wearing a sari, was told she was singled out for additional screening because of her dress.

Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said this was the second time the ambassador had been singled out for a pat down in the past three months.

“Let me be very frank that this is unacceptable to India,” he said. “We are going to take it up with the government of United States, and I hope that things could be resolved so that such unpleasant incidents do not recur.”

A TSA spokesman said diplomats were not exempt from the searches, and that bulky clothing could prompt a pat down.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters Thursday that the State Department is looking into the matter and is trying to determine what can be done to prevent such incidents in the future. She expressed concern but did not apologize for the incident and said it was not raised when she met with the Indian ambassador and other Indian officials on Tuesday.

The Indian Embassy spokesman, Virander Paul, said the State Department has reached out to the ambassador and offered regrets.

Karan Singh, a former Indian ambassador to the U.S., said if Shankar was singled out because of her clothing, the incident needs to be condemned. “I think she deserves an apology,” he said.

While the TSA has garnered criticism for its new security measures, including body scanners and pat downs, the controversy is especially emotive in India, where issues of modesty and status often collide with increasingly stringent airport security.

Last year, India was scandalized when former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was told to remove his shoes and was scanned by a metal detector before boarding a flight to the United States.