When Israeli soldiers thought ‘kumkum’ was a bomb trigger

June 15th, 2009 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Panaji, June 15 (IANS) A Goan couple that went on a tour to Jordan, Egypt and Israel has returned with unpleasant memories of “humiliation” by Israeli soldiers. They allege that the soldiers segregated the wife because they suspected the vermilion mark on her forehead to be “a trigger for a bomb”.

They suspected not only the ‘kumkum’ mark - a symbol for married Hindu women - but also her large hair bun, which she had tied in a typically Goan fashion. They made her untie it and remove the pins.

Shrirang Narvekar, a popular humour playwright, and his wife S.S. Narvekar had gone on the trip in May.

For the couple all was well until May 14 when they reached the Jordan-Israel border. The travel agency escorts had warned the two that they would be questioned as a matter of routine before entering Israel.

“The moment they saw my wife with her large kumkum and a big hair-bun they took her aside for further questioning and made her press the teeka with her thumb. It is a sign of marriage, what else can it be? It was highly insulting,” Narvekar told IANS.

He said his wife was also asked to remove all the hair pins, which kept her traditional hairdo in place, and was then forced to sit through a mug shot photo session of her, “as if she were a criminal”.

Recalling the incident, his wife said: “They (soldiers) thought the kumkum was some kind of a trigger for a bomb. They asked to press it three times to see if it started some kind of trigger mechanism. Once nothing happened, the soldiers with guns started laughing and jeering at me.”

The allegations come close on the heels of a group of 14 Christian pilgrims from Goa who complained that they were subjected to religious profiling by the authorities at the Israeli border in May. In their allegations, endorsed by the state government appointed Non-Resident Indian Commissioner Eduardo Faleiro, the pilgrims said that they were profiled on the basis of the names, some of which had Arabic overtones.

Narvekar said: “There has to be some sort of cultural sensitivity to these security checks.”

“I wanted to write a book on the pilgrimage which many of our Christian brothers in Goa undertake to the holy lands of Egypt, Jordan and Israel. We had no idea we had such humiliation in store for us,” the playwright said.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan@gmail.com)

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