I’ve tried to ‘let it go,’ ‘not get affected,’ and understand that he was ‘just doing his job’ but six days later I am still unable to move past my first “random check” at the airport.
I arrived at the Colombo airport at midnight, after flying for roughly ten hours. I was tired, sweaty, hungry and aching to get home. After collecting my luggage and making my way through security, an officer stopped me before I could make the final exit.
‘Where are you coming from Madam?’
‘Melbourne’ I responded.
‘Muslim or Hindu?’ This question woke me up. I looked at him for the first time and cocked my head to a side. ‘I’m sorry?’ I said. He repeated himself, ‘Muslim or Hindu?’
‘I am Muslim.’
‘Okay Madam, then I will have to do random check.’
It was far from funny but still I laughed. ‘You asked me for my religion and then said you have to conduct a random check, based on my answer?’
To this he answered, ‘Yes Madam, I am just doing my job.’ ‘Can I have your passport please, and also open your luggage’ he continued.
At this point I had lost the ability to act with diplomacy. I handed him my passport but refused to have my bags checked. He then called his colleague over who said this was standard protocol, and I had to let them check my bags.
I asked him if he knew the meaning of the term random check. He said he did. After a few minutes of my explaining to them that the nature of a random check involves choosing someone at random and not an interrogation regarding religion or ethnicity- both men apologised but still insisted that I open up my bags for them.
Whilst opening my bags I was asked what I was bringing back from Australia. I told them I had some jams and chocolates for my family. They then asked to see them. I picked out two bottles of jams and handed it to them. After having a brief look inside all my bags, one of the men said to me, ‘Poor people coming in from the Middle East bring more things for their families than you have.’ To this I replied, ‘Are these questions part of the random check as well?’ ‘No madam, I am just doing my job’ he answered.
Despite being fully aware of my rights and knowing full well that they were being violated, I succumbed to the authority. What I should have done was stand my ground and exercise my own prerogative, but I faltered. I’d like to say that I gave into them because I was tired, or because I didn’t care. But the truth is, they were men with power, and I was a woman of the minority.
I’m not going to say my experience was one of racism or sexism- because to be completely honest, I am not sure what it really was. The harassment was subtle to say the least, and perhaps it was a reflection of their own ignorance as individuals. However, I struggle to accept the reality that people in places of power can use their authority as an excuse for their stunted minds.
If you ever have to use your job as an excuse for your actions, you’re really not doing a very good job at doing your job.