Waris Ahluwalia, a familiar face from Wes Anderson films and Deepa Mehta's Beeba Boys as well as for his style and fashionable endeavours, was barred from boarding a flight home to New York after he refused to remove his turban in public.
The Brooklyn-raised Sikh actor and designer had travelled to Mexico City on Aero Mexico, but says he was held back from his return flight Monday morning, marked for additional security screening, searched and ultimately prevented from boarding.
The Indo-American Ahluwalia, 41, posted about the situation via social media, saying that he was "told I could not board my Aero Mexico flight to New York because of my turban."
"Dear NYC Fashion Week, I may be a little late," he added in a subsequent post. "Don't start the show without me."
Ordered to remove turban in public
Though Ahluwalia complied with additional security and search measures, he told the New York Daily News he balked when airline personnel asked him to remove his turban.
"That is not something that I would do in public," he told the paper. "That's akin to asking someone to take off their clothes."
"We are disappointed and concerned that Mr. Ahluwahlia was asked to remove his turban prior to boarding his flight. The turban is an integral part of a Sikh's identity and removal in public is akin to a strip search. The security personnel involved in this debacle owe Mr. Ahluwahlia an apology and must be trained in cultural and religious awareness," the Sikh American Legal Defence & Education Fund (SALDEF) said in a statement to NBC News.
In reference to the incident, the airline said in a statement that personnel asked Ahluwahlia to "submit to screening and inspection before boarding, in strict compliance with TSA protocol.
"We have offered the passenger alternatives to reach his destination as soon as possible. We sincerely regret any inconvenience caused by this incident."
Ahluwalia is nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for his supporting role in Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta's crime saga Beeba Boys. He has also appeared in the films I am Love, Inside Man, and in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Aside from film, the dapper figure is known for his jewelry line House of Waris, and he was also one of the faces of retailer Gap's 2013 Make Love campaign, where he was the first Sikh model to be featured in a national ad. After some of the posters were defaced with racist graffiti and slurs, Gap quickly replaced them and also changed its social media imagery to Ahluwalia's photo.