Waris Ahluwalia, a popular Indian actor, fashion designer, and model, claims that he wasn’t allowed to board an Aeromexico flight to the U.S. because of his turban. He is staying in Mexico until he gets an apology, MSN is reporting.
Ahluwalia, 41, has been in Mexico for the past few days, attending an art show. On Monday, he was at Mexico City’s airport, attempting to board a flight to New York City for Fashion Week. However, even after two comprehensive screenings, airport screeners will still not satisfied and demanded that Waris, a Sikh, remove his turban.
“The security person said, ‘Now, will you take off your turban?’ I said, ‘I won’t be taking off my turban here.’ A group of Aeromexico employees spoke among themselves in Spanish and then one guy came back to me wearing an orange vest over a suit and said, ‘You will not be flying Aeromexico and you will need to book a flight on another airline.”
Waris says he’s gotten used to zealous security screenings — multiple pat-downs, bag inspections, and even swabbings of his turban. But being asked to take off his turban is too much for the devout Sikh.
“My turban and beard represent my commitment to equality and justice.”
According to Waris’ account to the New York Daily News, asking a Sikh to remove their turban is a grave insult.
“[Removing the turban] is not something that I would do in public. That’s akin to asking someone to take off their clothes.”
Sikhism is a centuries-old monotheistic religion that originated in India. Sikhs are forbidden from shaving or cutting their hair (as a sign of humility) and are required to wear turbans (as a sign of commitment to social justice). Although not all Sikhs keep to the rules so diligently, Ahluwalia does.
Ahluwalia took to social media to publicize his plight, posting a photo of himself on Instagram holding what appears to be his cancelled ticket.
A spokesperson for Aeromexico, speaking to CNN, insisted that Ahluwalia’s screening was carried out “in strict compliance with TSA protocol.” Amilcar Olivares also said that the airline tried to make things right with Ahluwalia.
“We have offered the passenger (two) alternatives to reach his destination as soon as possible. We sincerely regret any inconvenience caused by this incident.”
For Ahluwalia, the offer of tickets on a return flight wasn’t enough. He began a sort-of one-man sit-in at the Mexico City airport, refusing to leave until his demands are met. Ahluwalia’s allies in the Sikh Coalition tweeted his demands.
— Sikh Coalition (@sikh_coalition) February 8, 2016
Waris Ahluwalia is not the first Sikh to face discrimination for having a vague resemblance to a stereotypical Muslim (and thus, to be associated with terrorism). For example, in December 2015, according to this Inquisitr report, Deepinder Mayell, an Indian Sikh living in Minnesota, had his first-ever trip to a Minnesota Vikings game when an angry fan demanded to know if he was a Syrian refugee.
“Somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.”
For Waris Ahluwalia, his one-man protest in Mexico isn’t just about him. It’s about people everywhere – Sikhs or otherwise – who have experienced discrimination.
“This isn’t about me. This isn’t about one person or about religious tolerance. This is about civil rights and racial profiling and if I have to be a part of that dialogue, I will be.”
Do you believe Waris Ahluwalia has a legitimate complaint about how he was treated in Mexico, or should he have just done as he was told and taken off his turban?
[Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for DIFF]