Shah Rukh Khan, a Bollywood superstar, was detained at White Plains Airport in New York by US immigration for an hour and half when he arrived there in a private plane on April 12, 2012 to deliver a lecture at the Yale University where he was honoured as a Chubb Fellow. He was allowed to go only after his hosts intervened and took up the matter with the Department of Homeland Security in Washington.
At Yale, Shah Rukh Khan was apparently annoyed. He started his speech jokingly by referring to the incident. He said, “It is nice to be here finally! I was detained at the airport for an hour and half, as always…Whenever I feel arrogant about myself, I take a trip to America…the immigration guys kick the star out of stardom!”
I was in New York City when this incident occurred. I got the information first from my daughter Usha who attended the ceremony at the Yale University. This is the second time Khan was detained by the US immigration. The last time it happened to him was at Newark Airport in 2009.
Peter Vrooman, a spokesperson of the US Embassy in India immediately issued a statement apologising for the incident. “Please allow me on behalf of our diplomatic mission in India to apologise if Mr. Khan experienced an inconvenience or delay in White Plains, New York, on way to Yale University.” The State Department also issued a similar statement. Security experts explained that Khan was a victim of a random selection process.
In the past, several Indian dignitaries were detained at US airports. Former Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar was frisked by a security agent in December 2010. According to some reports, she was singled out because she was wearing a sari. US officials again apologised and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that such incidents would not recur. In 2009, US Continental Airlines apologised for frisking former Indian President Dr. Abul Kalam before he boarded a flight to the States.
If VIPs like Dr. Abul Kalam and Khan could be harassed by US immigration/security personnel, what can happen to ordinary people like us? Well, I was detained three times by the US Immigration. Every time the officer apologised for the inconvenience. This time I was told that there was confusion about my name. I found out from the Internet that that there was an Afghan suspect named Abdul Matin who was detained in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It is quite probable that every time I pass through immigration, they make sure that I am not the Afghan suspect! I wonder whether the Afghan suspect would ever travel to the United States using the same name!
At one time I felt very bad being detained by immigration every time I came to the US. Now I feel a little better after having seen the cases of Khan and Dr. Abul Kalam. After all, I happen to belong to a select group of VIPs now!
Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any name would smell as sweet.” He would have perhaps re-written this famous quote if he had travelled to the United States of America in the 21st century!
(Article originally published on The Daily Star)
Dr. Abdul Matin is a former Chief Engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.