Even if United States officials were simply following procedures when they held Shah Rukh Khan, an Indian actor, at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday evening, they are certainly guilty of bad timing.
For one thing, the Bollywood megastar was on his way to Chicago for a parade celebrating India’s Independence Day on Saturday. But to make matters worse, Mr. Khan is also working on a new film, “My Name Is Khan,” about racial profiling of Indian Muslims living in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Many in India initially reacted to Mr. Khan’s experience at the airport with outrage, but throughout the day on Saturday, a debate among Indians about their own attitudes and security procedures has emerged.
Mr. Khan, 44, told the Indian media that he was detained for two hours (a Customs and Border Patrol official said it was more like one) when his name showed up in a database, prompting headlines like “Shahrukh Khan Detained At US Airport because his name KHAN” on one fansite for the movie.
Indians expressed their indignation on Twitter and to the Indian press,calling for vengeance against the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
“Shocking, disturbing and downright disgraceful,” tweeted Priyanka Chopra, a Bollywood actress. “It’s such behavior that fuels hatred and racism. SRK’s a world figure for God’s sake.” (The Twitter discussion thread is here.)
European Pressphoto AgencyShah Rukh Khan
Remarks by Ambika Soni, India’s information and broadcasting minister, were especially forceful. “I don’t think that this manner of detaining the name of religion is justified,” she said to Indian reporters.
Mr. Khan said this was not the first time he had been held for questioning — there is a virtual red carpet of Bollywood stars with similar stories — and some Indians are still stung after Continental Airlines employees frisked A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a former president of India, before he boarded a flight to New York.
Chidanand Rajghatta of The Times of India reports that United States officials’ recent criticism of India’s “inadequate protection of religious minorities,” seen by some as gratuitous, is adding to the sensitivity.
Ms. Soni proposed what is being characterized as a “tit for tat” by the Indian press. “I have always felt — even when I was frisked there — that the way they frisk us we should do the same for them here,” she said.
And some are chiming in to agree with her, though out of genuine concern for Indian security, rather than retaliation.
“We are just whimpering over here like hurt puppies because we feel, ‘Oh, but we don’t do it to them.’ Oh no, we don’t. And it’s a scandal. We should,” writes Anand Soondas in his blog at The Times of India (which employs some slang that some might find offensive), noting that there was little uptick in security at the Mumbai airport after the terrorist attacks there on Nov. 26.
“I told them I am a movie star,” Mr. Khan originally told the Indian media, adding that he had “always been worried about traveling to America,” and that he “felt angry.” But in remarks Saturday afternoon to The Associated Press from Illinois, he seemed to dial back: “I think it’s a procedure that needs to be followed, but an unfortunate procedure.”
In an e-mail message to The Times, Kevin Corsaro, a spokesman for United States Customs and Border Protection, declined to discuss the specific reasons for Mr. Khan’s inspection. “C.B.P. strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors in the United States,” he wrote.
Mr. Corsaro said the inspection lasted “a little more than an hour” and added, “Unfortunately, Mr. Khans’s checked luggage was lost by the airline, which contributed to his delay during C.B.P. processing.”
Asked if Mr. Khan’s name or religion prompted the inspection, Mr. Corsaro said, “C.B.P. conducts name queries of passengers entering the US. utilizing various law enforcement databases. The information in those databases is law enforcement sensitive, which we are not at liberty to discuss.”
Mr. Khan’s more resigned attitude has emerged after a bit of a backlashdeveloped among Indians. Some argued that Mr. Khan’s experience was overblown, and indicted what has been termed India’s “V.I.P. culture.” For example, Sridhar Kondoji at the blog eNewss writes:
All these people demand VIP status wherever they are. This is a virus like symptom only in India and has no cure for it. Shah Rukh Khan has created an embarrassment for Indian and American officials by exaggerating his 2 hour ordeal which is otherwise a routine questioning.
And as some pointed out, Indian celebrities are not being singled out for security checks. Bob Dylan was also quizzed by police in New Jersey on Friday, who demanded his identification following a complaint about someone loitering in Long Branch.