Today, I wanted to share my story of a time when I was red-flagged at airports on a single journey including my own country, India – on the grounds of my color and facial hair.
This was in 2019 February when I was traveling from India to Australia to pursue my masters. At the Delhi Airport, I was informed that I have been flagged & would be required to go through a separate security check. I observed that they had a list of passengers with photos & my photo was encircled.
Before even realising I was escorted by the airline staff away from the usual queue of passengers straight to the customs office from a separate entry gate for interrogation.
The officers probed me about my travel, foreign currencies amongst other dubious questions in a stern and impolite way. However, as soon as I showed them my passport and my religion and nationality was established, I could instantly notice a drastic shift in their conduct. Their attitude changed towards me & the staff accompanying me was told to not bother about my checking any further & I was good to go!
Little did I know that that was not all. When our flight landed at Singapore Airport, from where I had to take my connecting flight to Australia, I was again pointed out & asked to step aside from a sea of passengers who had also de-boarded the Delhi to Singapore flight with me.
I was again accompanied by the security personnel for inspection and was asked where I was traveling and what was the purpose of my travel and my luggage was thoroughly examined.
Lastly, I was again called aside at Melbourne Airport which was my last destination & a similar scenario got repeated.
Interestingly, in all the three times, I could find a pattern of this unmerited investigation – I would be taken for a separate security check after my religion gets established, I'd be taken back with other passengers.
And I felt the reason behind the initial insolence is perhaps because of my prominent beard coupled with my typical south Asian complexion, which makes my appearance that of a quintessential Muslim's, hence the questioning by the authorities.
I believe so because when I told my name & showed my passport, everything was sorted within seconds.
Though I wasn’t bothered about all the extra hassle of additional security checks for myself but I realised that how our Muslim brothers must feel traveling the world over being looked at suspiciously at every airport especially those who sport a beard.
Unfortunately, in 2020, when the world is dealing with lethal pandemics, Islamophobia is an utter reality.