After 9/11, security at American airports has been tightened up. America is doing everything in it’s power to make sure another 9/11 does not happen. In order to do that, people who travel to the US these days, who look different, are coloured, have a strange last name or their name looks similar to a name on the blacklist of Interpol have a chance to be questioned by immigration officials. It happened to actor Shah Rukh Khan this week for the second time in three years.
The 46-year old actor was detained for almost two hours at the White Plains Airport, while on he was on his way to give a lecture at Yale University were he was inducted as a Chubb Fellow.
Ever since he was detained in 2009 at the Newark Airport in New Jersey, being allowed out only after intensive questioning, the actor has been worried whenever he has to travel to the US. After the incident in 2009, Khan said: “I shy away from all this. I don’t look like a terrorist going to do anything to the country. I did feel bad. I felt angry. I am glad my family wasn’t there. God knows what they would have done to them.”
In 2009, US sources told a leading newspaper that Bollywood stars and other Indian artists were under the scanner for financial transactions, including illegal cash payments, that some of them get through dodgy promoters. This might be the reason why Indian stars are still on some list.
Three years later, the whole scene was repeated. Somehow, SRK had a feeling that he would be questioned again. According to Shailja Gupta, The USA head of Red Chillies Entertainment, Khan answered all questions with grace and patience. She also mentioned that some of the airport officials recognized him, but others still continued the questioning. However, the actor still was upset about it. Officials from Yale University had to contact the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Department at Washington, when they found out about his detention to get him cleared.
When he finally arrived at Yale, which is three hours from New York, SRK said: “We were detained at the airport as always. For one and a half hours. It was nice. It always happens when I come to America. Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself I take a trip to America”.
US apologisis for frisking SRK
The US Embassy in India issued a statement on Friday apologising for the incident. “Please allow me on behalf of our diplomatic mission in India to apologize if Mr. Shah Rukh Khan experienced an inconvenience or delay in White Plains, New York, on his way to Yale University”, said Peter Vrooman, the US embassy spokesperson. He also added that Americans are great fans of Indian movies and in particular respect the work of the great actor, Shah Rukh Khan. His own daughter always asks to see SRK’s ‘Chammak Challo’. Vrooman was thrilled the actor was recognised by Yale University as a Chubb Fellow.
But the spokesperson also tried to explain the security procedures adopted by the American customs and border patrol agency and noted that they have been given the taks with protecting the American borders. He added: “If anyone you know have been selected for secondary screening on multiple occasions, one can use the Department of Homeland Security Traveller Redress Inquiry Program to resolve issues such as misidentification.”
US denies racial profiling
The US has ruled out any pattern or racial profiling in the detention of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan. “I wouldn’t necessarily look at this as some sort of pattern, but rather two separate incidents,” said Mark Toner, spokesman State Department. “I think we all know that that’s clearly not the case. You know, the fact of the matter is tens of thousands of Muslims travel to and from the US every day and are not detained or delayed,” Mr Toner said.
He added: “He was traveling to an event at Yale University. We have obviously the utmost respect for Mr. Khan and his work, both as an artist and a humanitarian, and we offer our apologies for any discomfort or inconvenience he may have suffered as a result of this incident. “I offered my sincere apologies that he may have experienced. I’m not sure that it was done on a personal level.”
Security experts say that the random selection parameter is designed to make preventive determination more effective. They acknowledge that one of the negative fallouts is that many innocent people get singled out because of this parameter.
Reactions to SRK’s detention – India says a sorry won’t do
The whole issue of SRK being detained for the second time has not gone down well with Indian authorities. S.Mm Krishna, Minister of External Affairs has asked Nirupama Rao, the Indian ambassador to the US, plans to take up this issue with the highest American authorities. After the incident the US Customs and Border Protection addressed a letter to India’s New York Mission with “profound” apologies for the incident. “This has become a habit of detention and apology which cannot continue”, he said in reaction to the apology.
Reactions from celebrities and ministers started to pour in after Khan’s detention reached the media. The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah put a tweet on Twitter: “Honestly what’s the big deal?? This airport detention thing happens all the time & to all sorts of people. Get over it.”
They sould have records
However, not all were as dismissive. Congress MP Rajiv Shukla called the detention of Khan inappropriate and uncalled for, “If you stop someone because of his/her name or some other reasons for so 2-3 hours and then apologise and let him go, this is not fair. They should have records, anyone who has gone through this procedure once, should not go through it again. And for known figures, a data bank should be maintained. I think whether it is Shah Rukh or former president of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, if you know the identity of the person and if you have already established the identity of the person, then it is completely uncalled for and inappropriate.” He added: “It has become a policy of the US that first they do it and then they apologise. The Foreign Minister has already condemned it.”
Only way to spend time with SRK is by detaining him
Farah Ali Khan said, “I think the US immigration officials actually love Shah Rukh. Detaining him is the only way they get to spend time with hime. :):) And yes, I do wish the US immigration would stop detaining Shahrukh Khan as it seems to be getting into a habit now. @iamsrk. Seems to me the US immigration has never heard of ” King Khan” @iamsrk. They are only familiar with “King Kong”.
Actor Irrfan Khan has been detained as well and says the American system isn’t fullproof. “This is ignorance on their part. Their system is not full proof. Even our president had been stopped, and so was I at the immigration several times in the US at the airport. So whenever I go to the US I always think they will again stop me this time.”
Irrfan explains what happens when one is begin detained, “Whenever you cross immigration counter and give your passport, they ask your purpose of visit. And then they suddenly check something on computer and then their perception changes.”
“They take away your phone, you are not allowed to call anyone or talk to anyone. They call the police and take you to a room and (you) can’t question them as to why they are taking you and where. When all verification process is properly done by them and they are satisfied, they let you go,” he said.
Fact is certain name or colour of the skin are suspected
Renowed writer Javed Akhtar wondered why Shah Rukh Khan had to be questioned so long. “I am not saying they should be nice to Shah Rukh Khan, just because he is a celebrity. I am saying it is much easier to find out about Shah Rukh Khan because he is a celebrity. You can stop a person, you have all the right. You don’t like his surname, perfectly alright. But why does it take so long to find out about this man, while it’s so easy. The fact is that certain names, or colour of the skin are suspected. Everybody knows it.”
Shah Rukh Khan is not the only Indian celebrity to have been questioned in the US. Aamir Khan was strip searched at Chicago in 2002, John Abraham was stopped in New York for having Afghanistan as a country visited on his passport and fair skinned Neil Nitin Mukesh was also stopped in New York because authorities didn’t believe he was Indian.