August 16, 2009

Shahrukh detention: Intellectuals side with Airport Security

Below are some comments and thoughts of former bureaucrats, intellectuals and Indian activists in US and abroad about Prominent Indian Film Actor Mr.Shahrukh Khan, deteained by US Immigration officers, who wanted to know why he was visiting the US.

In my view, the incident only reinforces the fact that US authorities take the business of security very seriously. After our own security lapses in Bombay, it is my personal opinion that measures taken to ensure security are in the interests of all and should be understood as part of our insecure world, if not appreciated. Personal egos and feelings have to, unfortunately, take a backseat in the present day world.

Mitra Vasisht.

Dr (Mrs). Mitra Vasisht
Ambassador of India in Cuba

One of the corner stones of a well functioning society is upholding the rule of law, and not creating a stratification around personnas.

SRK was traveling in an individual capacity. (He may be popular and well known, but he is no different from any other traveler. He just happens to ply a craft that gives him great name recognition, no more no less.) He IS in a high risk profile, based on current world events, and if the $10/hour worker is doing his job to ensure the protection of society at large (and it is not an affront that the guy doesn't know who SRK is; why should he?) then that is a good thing.

The right answer is exactly the opposite. We should support institutions and personnel that turn a blind eye to (so called) stature and carry out their jobs professionally. And if you don't take it personally when you yourself are frisked, then don't imbue SRK's questioning with some kind of cultural slap to the nation - its not.

What bothers me the most in fact is the opposite. More than once, I have been on a flight out of Delhi, and the security guys seem to 'recognize' some son of a big shot or something, and let him through without procedures (that have been put in place not to be-little human beings, but to protect us all because of the circumstances the world presents to us at this time...).

By the way, if an unknown American of S. Asian descent with a muslim name were to land in India, I would expect that he too would come under some serious questioning by India's authorities - and would that be an insult or wrong?

-- Arun Bhagat

I agree with Arjun Bhagat. We are often asked why there has been no repeat attacks on American soil after 9/11. Here is the answer. The security authorities in the US take their jobs seriously. It is only in India that a political leader goes through airport security with bullets in his hand bag! Shah Rukh Khan should be no exception to the rule. Hundreds of ordinary Indians go through this kind of experience
and why all this fuss about SRK?

T.P. Sreenivasan,
Former Ambassador of India,
Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.
Member, National Security Advisory Board, New Delhi

Famous or not, U.S. is a land of equality and opportunity for everyone on an equal basis (99.9% it is true). That means if you are a Brittany Spears, a Michael Jackson, a famous movie star, a Senator (famous or not), a Congressman, a bishop, a billionaire, a nobody, everyone has to go through prevailing security procedures at U.S. airports etc. If a foreigner (famous or not) is visiting U.S. or its territories especially in his or her own individual capacity .. the same rule applies.

Joe Thomas
Head Proforma Joe Thomas Group , US

I just saw news about The King Khan

I think Shahrukh is making a story for nothing.

There is a system in US which they follow rreligiously and it is based on compute system. Bigger names in US also went thru same system and were body searched and they include Senator Ted Kennedy Former Director US National Security, who made US safer after 9/11 Rahul Gandhi President Kalam right in Indian airport. There are so many US Law Makers went thru Body Search, when they are on US TV on a regular basis.
In the interest of having a fool proof security, I will except all what it takes to secure us while flying.


Look at India System- The drive of an official car can take you inside of most secure areaS. India should create fool proof system. No matter, if is Tata, Sharukh or any well konom Politician they must have same yard stick. That is my VIEW

I think Shahrukh should COME ON TV to say "Sorry to US Govt for making issue out this situation and withdraw all his comments"

If he is so upset, he should leave US immediately and take oath not to visit THAT COUNTRY FOR REST OF THIS LIFE and should make all his movies in India.


Deven Verma

Deven Verma

I agree with Arjun's point of view - NOBODY IS ABOVE THE LAW - yes , in India , we have separate provisions for the have's - everybody is somebody or the other or perhaps knows somebody or the other - the bureaucrats , the politicians and then the filmstars , all crave for a special treatment and back home they get it too !! Didn't praful patel , the aviation minister create a list of govt officials who were exempted from security checks ? How was an immigration officer to know who SRK is specially if he is of any other descent than sub con ? Unless of course we know who he is ? Finally , did anyone notice that the singer Sukhbir singh was arrested in Pakistan as reported by TOI ? Any hue and cry for that ?

May be "Triple Cross" by Peter Lance be made a mandatory reading to ensure that to enjoy freedom we need to protect it as well and prevent slippage and leakages!

Vibhuti Jha

I have always been on the fence in the debate over preferential treatment to distinguished personalities. One side of the argument has already been adequately represented below. Just to balance the debate and specifically looking at it from a technical, operational perspective,the flip side of the debate goes like this....

It is based on the premise that these folks have paid their dues and more to the society in general and their country and community in particular. Given that, past is a very good predictor of future behaviour in this case, it is willfully naive to assume that they could pose any form of threat. Hence, from a pure efficiency and productivity standpoint, it a waste of time and energy both for the person who goes through the process as well as the person or the institution who mandates it. And then the larger impact of such an action - the loss of goodwill between persons, organizations and nations.

What is perhaps lacking here is a system that can cleverly and uniquely identify such prominent ladies and gentleman across the world. Had there been such a system in place, it could have been used to allow them a little bit of extra privilege, that they have rightfully earned the through their dedication, hard work and loyalty to the human cause and endeavor. Obviously, as in any other case, we have to be vigilant to people who may try to abuse the system, but that would not be a good enough reason to deprive these respectable folks of such convenience. The idea of such a system would not sound very far fetched to those who are aware of, and have used the "clear card" in the airports in US.

Till such a system comes to fruition, I agree that the guy at the airport was just doing his job. Also, I am annoyed by Shah Rukh Khan's personal outburst on this issue. Contrast it with Kalam's saintly reaction to the despicable experience he had to endure with continental airlines.


We need a bit of clarity here.

1) Shah Rukh Khan is a private citizen and upon entry into the United States is subject to the laws of this country. It is regrettable that he was detained for over two hours by U.S. security personnel. Was SRK visiting the USA for the first time? Chances are NOT! If he has had multiple entries into the USA, why then did the U.S. authrities detain him for that long. Generally, if the paperwork is in order and previous visit/exits established, the aiport secutiry should have allowed entry without let or hindrance. If I recall correctly, SRK said that the Khan name might have triggered the process. If true, why did the security detain SRK simply based simply on his last name? Is there something we do not know? There are millions of Khans/muslims in this world. Would an person with the last name Al-Said flying in from Saudi Arabia be given the same treatment? Or did SRK's passport + his last name combined to raise suspicion? Based on SRK's previous multiple visits to the USA (if that is established), my personal view is that there was no valid reason for the U.S. airport security to a) detain him for two hours and b) having done so, should have been able to establish SRK's bonafides within that time frame. That the U.S. agencies had to ultimately rely on a third-party GOI intervention to vouch for SRK proves how rotten our own airport screeing system is. Tourism in the USA has dropped precipitously, and these are the reasons why.

2) Regarding ex-Def. George Fernandes on being "frisked" twice by U.S. airport security. It is beyond pale that a serving defence minister of India should have been subjected to regular airport "frisking." I have taken several U.S. State governors to India on trade missions. The GOI and the Airport Authorities in India have obliged EVERY TIME to have "out of turn" private screeening for the Governor and their spouses (their security personnel had to undergo "normal" screenings). Not once did GOI and the Airport authorities (Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai) ojected. They were extremely mindful and respectful of the protocol, were politie to a fault, and privately screened the visiting dignitaries. How very nice! How DARE the GOI allow a serving Defense Minister of India to be "frisked" TWICE at U.S. airports without consequences?

3) Regarding President Kalam's search by the Continental Airlines. I do not know whether ex-Presidents in India are provided life-long security (as in the U.S.). I assume they must. The questions thus arises is at what physical point/location was President Kalam "frisked" by Continental Airlines?" Was it on the tarmac? Was it on the airplane? Where EXACTLY was he "frisked?" Are there no existing policies with the GOI to deal with these issues? If President Kalam was frisked outside the physical jurisdiction of the Continental Airlines by its personnel, then, as his security detail, shame on me for allowing ANYBODY to come in close proximity to my President, let alone letting someone wave a wand over him. For that, I deserve to be shot! If he was searched inside the plane, why did I (as a person in charge of his secutiry) not make prior arrangements with the Continental staff to ensure adhering to an agreed upon code of conduct and protocol? In both cases, the entire seciurity personnel of President Kalam needs to be fired and replaced with a a more competent team. And if Continental Airlines broke any agreements and went ahead and 'frisked" him anyways, the GOI should have suspended CA's operations in India, simply to make a point.

Indians need to study the Brazilian model for airport screening protocol!

Reggie Sinha
The fault, dear Indians, is entirely within us!
India, so what are you doing about it!

Even though I risk creating a tangential conversation here, I think this is an important point worth some serious thought on all of our parts. Hence, I am going to debate Manoj's points here, so we all can draw our own conclusions as to how we organize ourselves as a society.

I think it is a very big mistake to legitimize the argument being made below for a number of reasons:

- It is morally repugnant to me that people, as individuals (not in their official capacity of course) deserve to get preferential treatment. Until we all truly understand that each of us is doing our dharma on this planet, and nobody's role is bigger than another's we will never move beyond our genetic hardwiring, whereby, as descendants of the ape family, we are inherently hierarchical, and feel the need to grant special privileges to 'big' people. Until we truly, deeply, understand that all of us are only playing our roles, and that each role is equally important, we will never break the social structure that allows some people to take advantage of others. So, while a school principal has a bigger span of control than the school teacher, who has a bigger span of control than the school janitor, all of them have a job description, and all of them are necessary for a school to function well. Does not make one person more important than the other (at the level of a human being, not at the level of official decision making within the context of their jobs). The principal's job is to make sure all resources of the school are functioning well, he is ONLY an administrator. Doesn't mean he can teach children better than the teacher. Doesn't mean he is should be a more 'privileged' human being than the teacher...

SRK succeeded. Why should that accord him ' a little bit of extra privilege' ? His success gets him the privileges he has earned fairly. Extra money, fame, freedom. He is fairly compensated for his success any way. As for lofty claims such as; these people have rightfully earned something special because of their loyalty to human causes or endeavor - that is a massive conflation of outcomes (success in the public media) to intent (that they somehow are more altruistic or socially aware/caring human beings compared to a middle class house wife who carries out her dharma, helps a poor person in need, obeys the laws, is an upright citizen of the country... you get the picture.)

On the practical aspects of this argument, I think this mode of thinking leads us down a very slippery slope in two directions:

a) Who gets to define 'prominence'? What would the criteria be? Where does it stop? Mega stars only? What about a CEO of a huge company? What about a CFO of a medium sized company? What about an Executive Director of a little non-profit which is helping 200 starving children?

b) Who defines 'a little bit of extra privilege'? Where does it stop? Only for immigration? What about not paying taxes (Sachin with his car gift furore a few years ago). Running a red light? Hunting endangered animals?

In both a) and b) - WHO gets the power to decide these issues, and does it get codified in to law or not?

This is one area that I sincerely believe, at the foundational/philosophical level, Indian society has to truly change the lens it uses. The elite in India are conceited not because they were born that way, but because society trains them to believe that they are special human beings. As long as the under privileged - and depending upon the pecking order, we are privileged compared to some, and under privileged compared to others - are willing to be subservient to those 'above' we create the structure that allows the 'rule of privilege' over the 'rule of law' to exist, something all us rue and lament about Indian society every day...




Sidharth said...

well, whatever the reason may be for his detention... i think it has been overhyped too much,, He,being the greatest of marketers in India, he danced at the chance he got, and knew the media would do the rest for him automatically... and he shall get free publicity for his movie 'My name is Khan'....

The main issue therefore in this 'non-issue' is the stupid and immatured way our media and the government reacted... and also the way things shaped up in SRK's case vis-a-vis Dr. Kalam's incident...

Read my post about all this at ..and do post comments on that as well

Sharath said...

jawaharlal Nehru,s entourage was forced to wait out at railway level crossing. That great mind appreciated the line man on duty.This was then. Now pomposity,throwing weight,mixing up isses with non issues is the present day value system. Yes it is that.Wish SK will openly apologise and enhance his stature.To err is ok but owning up you are a model.may be Priyanka and the rest will understand.There is no room for solemnising terror issues at any bloody cost!Swami Vivekananda maintained one errs but is the better for it next day when he wakes up looking at the woods which he had earlier missed for the trees.

Neha Jain said...

shahrukh khan detained and released, he is a superstar so made to front page of news paper thats it.

why is the govt making big issue about ??????????
why this was not done while our for,er president shri abdul kalam was frisked

is shahrukh more imp for govt as he is freind of congress 1st family??????