Superstar Shah Rukh Khan was detained at a New York airport for two hours yesterday, sparking outrage in India. The US immigration authorities apologised for the incident, but that did not seem to pacify New Delhi that reacted sharply, telling Washington this “habit of detention and then apology” won’t do.
Khan, who has millions of fans in India and around the world, was detained at New York’s White Plains airport for two hours as he arrived to visit Yale University. He was honoured at the Yale as a Chubb Fellow, joining a distinguished list which includes former US presidents George W Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and authors Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes and Toni Morrison.
The immigration authorities allowed him to go only after his hosts intervened and took up the issue with the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, said sources. Sensing public outrage in India, the US customs and border protection authorities later expressed “profound” apologies over Khan’s detention. Khan’s name was “flagged” in the system and airport people needed approval of senior authorities to clear him, it clarified.
India was upset, specially as this was the second time Khan was detained at a US airport in the last three years, and told the US off, saying it must do something to remedy this pattern of detention and apology. In August 2009 also, Khan was stopped at the Newark Airport and was released after two hours at the intervention of the Indian consulate in New York.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, who is in Moscow to attend a trilateral meeting of India, Russia and China, asked India’s ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao to take up the issue with US authorities. “This has become a habit of detention and then apology, this cannot continue. We need an assurance that this won’t happen again,” he said yesterday.
Tit for tat?
Sources in New Delhi indicated that if this pattern continued, India may now consider extending the same treatment to US citizens visiting India.
Khan, who has starred in a film “My Name is Khan” that unravels racial profiling in the US after 9/11 terror attacks, said he felt “insulted and humiliated,” but continued with his engagements and chose sarcasm to hit back.
Talking to students, Khan, dressed in a chic black suit, thanked Ambani for getting him to the US after a long flight. Then he was “detained at the airport as always,” said Khan adding with a smile, “It was nice, as it always happens.” “Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kicked the star out of stardom,” he said.
But he always has his “small victories” even in such circumstances, said Khan. “They (immigration officials) always ask me how tall I am and I always lie and say 5 feet 10 inches. Next time I am going to get more adventurous. (If they ask me) What colour are you, I am going to say white,” he said. “I was really hassled at the American Airport because of my name being Khan... It was absolutely uncalled for... I felt angry and humiliated,” said Shah Rukh, who was then heading towards Chicago to participate in an Independence Day celebration event. “It is a Muslim name and I think the name is common on their checklist,” he had then said.
‘Inappropriate and uncalled for’
There was much anger in India over, as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla put it, the “inappropriate and uncalled for” detention of Khan. “I think whether it is Shah Rukh or former president of India (APJ 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 said.
“It has become a policy of the US that first they do it and then they apologise,” said Shukla, while asking the US to review its security system.
However, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tried to play it down on Twitter, saying, “Honestly what's the big deal?? This airport detention thing happens all the time & to all sorts of people. Get over it.”