Sikh Teen Who Wrote Anti-Bullying Book Forced to Remove Turban at Airport


Karanveer Singh Pannu is a Sikh-American high-school student who wrote a book about Sikh youth who get bullied in school. 

Titled Bullying of Sikh American Children, the book teaches readers about the antagonism and intimidation Sikh children face in classrooms and on playgrounds across the U.S. 

According to a 2014 report from the Sikh Coalition, Sikh children often face bullying at school, where classmates will forcibly remove their turbans. Pannu writes about such incidents at length in his book. 


Pannu recently travelled from New Jersey to the annual Sikh Youth Symposium in Bakersfield, California, to discuss his work with the community there.

"I had gone to talk about my book as an inspirational speaker to address all the kids participating in the annual Sikh Youth Symposium — a public speaking competition being held in Bakersfield, California," he told NBC.

Pannu confronted discrimination first-hand during an airport security screening Sunday. 

While passing through Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, a hand swab Pannu took tested positive for explosive material. One possible explanation: The glycerin contained in some hand lotions can lead consumers to test positive for explosive residue during airport checks.

Transportation Security Administration personnel asked Pannu to submit to a pat-down in a separate screening room. 

Once sequestered, officials asked him remove his turban. 

"I refused at first," Pannu told NBC. "But when they threatened me that I could not fly, I agreed — provided they gave me a mirror to retie my turban."

Sikhs consider the turban sacred — an extension of the body only to be removed in the privacy of the wearer's home, according to the Sikh Coalition.

TSA asked Pannu if there was anything they should be aware of before he removed his turban. 

"I politely answered that there is a lot of long hair and something called the brain underneath," Pannu said.

Jeff Roberson/AP

Sikhs' use of turbans has been the topic of several recent incidents across the country.

In February, airline personnel stopped Sikh-American actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia from boarding a U.S.-bound flight in Mexico City after he refused to remove his turban. "[Taking the turban off] is not something that I would do in public," Ahluwalia told the New York Daily News at the time. "That's akin to asking someone to take off their clothes."

Sikh soldiers have also waged — and won — legal battles over their right to wear turbans while on duty, while Sikh athletes must routinely compete not only with opposing teams, but with governing sports bodies who restrict their ability to wear their religious attire freely. Meanwhile, authorities have barred a troubling number of Sikhs from attending public events because of their turbans.

And so, the turban warfare continues. 

If there's any upside to this story, it's that Pannu now has a growing body of material for a sequel to his book.

h/t NBC News