I’m sure many of you have experienced walking through a beeping metal detector somewhere in India. I have, numerous times. The sound always stops me in my tracks. I look around, expecting a security guard to pull me aside for searching. Yet, more often than not, nothing happens. No one pays any attention to me. This is particularly the case at railway stations. I guess the security guards have become desensitised to metal detectors that constantly beep as people walk through them.
On occasion, random procedures accompany a walk through India’s metal detectors. When I was attending the Jaipur Literature Festival last month, during the busiest times in the mornings, security guards insisted that people turn off their mobile phones before passing through the detectors. At other times of the day, there were no such demands. Why the inconsistency in procedure? And why have I never been asked to turn off my mobile when walking through a metal detector before?
And then, there are the manual bag searches — half-hearted and pointless. In the six years I’ve been living in India, I do believe that the only time my bag has been searched thoroughly was before entering Tantra, the club at The Park Hotel in Kolkata, to see if I had a camera (“no photography allowed inside the club, madam”).
I’ll never forget the first time I encountered a seemingly illogical security procedure in India. It was at that sab se sasta – aur paagal – department store, the Big Bazaar. After I’d paid for my goods at the checkout, the plastic shopping bag that contained them was heat-sealed completely shut. As I left the premises, a security guard demanded to see my docket, which he then hole-punched. Although I’ve figured out the reasons behind many strange things in India, this one still leaves me baffled. How is it possible to check the contents of my bag against the receipt, if it’s sealed shut?
At D Mart, it’s customers’ handbags, not shopping bags, that are sealed shut. They do it at the entrance, by securing a plastic tie through the zipper. If this isn’t possible because your bag has press-studs instead of zippers, like mine, they’ll put your whole handbag into another bag, and seal that shut. Only then are you permitted to enter.
However, there’s nothing more irritating than the superfluous bag searches conducted at some airports in India. I recently encountered such a search at Jaipur airport, on my way back to Mumbai. After passing through the usual metal detector and X-ray scans, on the other side of the departure lounge, I discovered that my carry-on luggage would also be subjected to a manual search. All passengers were instructed to line up (a difficulty in itself in India) at the two tables, which had been set up on the way to board the plane, and open their luggage. If I’d had any non-permitted items at the bottom of my bag, the security officer sure wouldn’t have found them because he didn’t look that far. But I’m still at a loss to know what non-permitted items I could possibly be carrying, since I’d already been scanned and my bags X-rayed. Were the security officers unsure of the effectiveness of these procedures?
Despite all this, I think the most nonsensical experience I’ve had, was when a security guard tried to stop me from carrying my umbrella up an escalator at a mall in Mumbai. I just looked at him incredulously and continued on my way.
What about you? What have your experiences with security been like in India?
Photo credit: Security at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai by Magnusvk.
© 2012, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.
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