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Current as of 02/10/14 07:40PM NZST

Airplane row is racism says knife Sikh

By Kate Newton

A Sikh priest asked to hand over his religious dagger by a pilot after he boarded a plane from Auckland to Napier said the issue only served to highlight the racism his community faced in the post-September 11 world.

Jarnail Singh and a group of Sikh priests visiting from India got through security wearing their kirpans under their shirts at Auckland's domestic terminal without any problems and boarded their flight to Napier on Sunday afternoon.

Mr Singh said a woman sitting behind him spotted his kirpan sticking out and began shaking. "She said I had a knife and got panicked," Mr Singh said.

"I asked her 'please calm down, we are not what you think'."

The woman's husband notified cabin crew and the pilot asked the men to hand over their kirpans until they landed in Napier. They were given them back once all other passengers had got off the plane in Napier.

"Air New Zealand was very fair. It's just disappointing when one lady reacts like that and makes an issue out of it," Mr Singh said.

"If we are travelling international we put them in luggage but we have never had a problem before."

Mr Singh said he was often taunted by people calling him Bin Laden because of his long beard which under Sikh tradition he is not permitted to cut.

"I think people are still paranoid after 9/11 but I'm not even Muslim," he said. "I have a turban, see, so that's how you can tell."

Mr Singh has been living in New Zealand for 19 years and working for five years as the vineyard manager at Park Estate Winery.

He has been travelling with the priests who are in New Zealand for nine months and visiting the temples for ceremonies which include prayer and song.

But passenger David Anderson said he was concerned that security in a post-September 11 terrorist attack environment was so lax.

"There was no security screening whatsoever," he said. "I checked in electronically. No photo ID was needed. I then boarded the plane without passing through a metal detector or having my bags x-rayed.

"This is the second time I have done this flight and it was the same the previous time.

"If this had happened in America there would have been helicopters and Swat teams and megaphones and no one would have been going to Napier in a hurry. But we do things differently down under, I guess."

- HAWKE'S BAY TODAY

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