Immigration authorities set off international incident
While Bollywood star Shah Rukh “King” Khan was dialing back his initial anger over being detained and interrogated by U.S. immigration authorities in Newark, N.J., Friday, the outrage in India grew during the weekend as the nation marked its independence day Saturday.
In a scenario reminiscent of the plot of his latest movie with Fox Asia Studios, “My Name Is Khan,” about a Muslim man’s travails in the U.S., the thesp was interrogated for a couple of hours on Friday on his arrival from India. In Khan’s homeland, the incident spurred calls for retaliation by government officials and the burning of U.S. flags and an effigy of President Obama.
“Khan is a Muslim name, and I think the name is common on their checklist,” the actor told the CNN-IBN television channel. “I was waiting for my bags. I thought it was nice of them to take me to another room, but that was apparently a second check. I had my papers in order.”
U.S. officials denied the actor was detained. According to a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, Khan was pulled aside because part of the routine examination involved inspecting his bags. However, the airline he was traveling on, British Airways, had lost Khan’s luggage, which delayed the process, said Customs spokesman Elmer Camacho, who refused to discuss specifics of Khan’s case, but added that the thesp was taken to another room to wait his turn to be processed.
Khan, however, said he was finally let go without his luggage when he was allowed to make a phone call to the Indian consulate, which arranged for his release.
“I felt angry and humiliated,” Khan said in a statement. “I wish I was in India on Independence Day.”
But by Saturday, Khan, who was in Chicago, had tempered his feelings about the incident, telling reporters: “I think it’s a procedure that needs to be followed, but an unfortunate procedure.”
That was little consolation for fans in India. In Uttar Pradesh province, where most of the protests occurred, U.S. flags and an effigy of Obama were burned by angry crowds in Allahabad.
Indian Information and Broadcasting minister Ambika Soni suggested in the media that India should retaliate. “I am of the opinion that the way we are frisked — for example I too was frisked — we should also do the same to them,” Soni said.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel told reporters India would “take the issue (up) with the United States government strongly. Such incidents involving Indians due to their religion or nationality should not happen. We will not accept it.”
Meanwhile, the American ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer, released a statement saying: “We are trying to ascertain the facts of the case, to understand what took place. Shah Rukh Khan, the actor and global icon, is a very welcome guest in the United States. Many Americans love his films.”
Other Indian thesps, especially those with Muslim names such as Irrfan Khan (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Mammootty have been detained by U.S. immigration in the past and spoke of their experiences.
Meanwhile helmer Shekhar Kapur asked all sides to calm down. His suggestion: “President Obama should invite Shah Rukh to a family dinner over beer and (view) one of his Bollywood films.”