16 August 2009

Shah Rukh Khan -- US Immigration Hassles...

This post sort of fits in with an earlier post I did on the racial conflicts happening in Australia that garnered considerable media coverage in India. If for no other reason than it highlights that problems of racial profiling and racial conflict are not unique to any one country in the world. And, it does not matter whether you are just an ordinary person going about your normal affairs or a world wide star going about your normal affairs.

This is the case for Shah Rukh Khan or Shahrukh Khan, an Indian, a Bollywood legend and owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders Cricket Team, and I would have reckoned pretty much known the world over, at least wherever there are films. This I figured would have included the US.

It seems that Khan came in for some special attention by US immigration authorities as he was passing through Newark airport in New Jersey. Khan was on his way to Chicago for a parade to mark Indian Independence Day. Khan has gone on the record to say he felt angry and humiliated. I am guessing that there would be plenty of Indians and other citizens of the world saying, "welcome to the real world in America".

This sort of detention and harassment of certain travelers is not exclusive to Indians. It gets just about everybody. A number of years ago I was traveling with a group of students to the US from Indonesia. The males in the group were all detained and taken off to side rooms for "special" interviews and then interrogated about their intentions and reasons for travel. These interviews lasted for a couple of hours as I recall. I, on the other hand, just fronted up at the immigration counter, flipped out the passport, smiled a little, and off-loaded my fingerprints and was done.

Eventually, Khan was allowed to make a call to the Indian Consulate and they were able to clear up the matter. I am not so sure that an Indian with a lesser public profile might have been able to get the same sort of assurances from their consulate.

Funnily enough, in that perversely sad way, Khan had just finished shooting a film, "My Name is Khan," about racial profiling of Muslim men. I am sure this experience will lend an air of greater reality to the film when it is finally released. Some might even argue that this story is a bit of a beat-up designed to help promote the movie. Perhaps the incident can even become a movie in its own right with Khan playing the lead role, and lots of suitably attired and dancing customs officials bopping (dancing for others but I am not a dancer myself, but just a simple bopper) away in the usual Bollywood fashion.

The incident is certain to get the cyber world buzzing and Indians are sure to be flooding sites with comments about it. And, why not?

Priyanka Chopra, a colleague of Khan's was quick to tweet her feelings on the matter: "Shocking, disturbing n downright disgraceful. It's such behavior that fuels hatred and racism. SRK's a world figure for God's sake. Get Real!!" She has a point on the hatred and racism, but probably not so on the shocking, disturbing, and disgraceful front. Life for certain travelers to the US are pretty much that which Khan has endured.

The Indian Information Minister, Ambika Soni, has upped the ante by suggesting that this is a regular occurrence for Indians; being detained after being racially or religiously profiled. Specifically, Soni said that there had been no definitive statement that Khan had been detained on religious grounds, but "there have been too many instances like these in the US concerning Indians." Fuel on the fire for sure.

With a bit of luck this incident might serve as a bit of an eye-opener all round. However, I doubt that it will. When the US turned away Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, that caused an outcry and some serious questions to be asked about profiling and terrorist lists, but the reality is seemingly that things have not changed; business as usual.


Brett said...

I am yet to have anything but a nasty experience entering the US by plane. But from what I hear from friends, I have got off lightly so far. Detention seems to be pretty much standard fair for anyone from the Asian continent. Here's a tip: fly into Canada and cross the border by car. Much more pleasant.

Rob Baiton said...


Or perhaps to Mexico and then you could walk across with a whole lot of others.

On a more serious note. I have not had any troubles personally. As I said, just flash the passport and the pearly whites while agreeing to give up my fingerprints, and I am home free.

Although, Canada is nice for a visit ;)

limo said...

Shahrukh Khan was detained for two hours on Newark airport over his surname.

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Comments are always appreciated.

So, what do we call it when you are profiled using a name? Does this mean he was on some kind of "watch list"?

I guess none of my clan have been bad because I have never been detained because of my surname (or even because I am me), at least, not in the US.

Although, I have been whisked off to a small interrogation room on arrival in Jakarta once. I think that was because I was white and looked like an easy mark :D

LavanyaLea said...

I am a girl, with an Oriental face, and thanks to all the anti-Chinese movement back in the 60s I end up with a characteristically Chinese Indonesian name which, to all other non-Indonesians is simply "a Moslem name".

So yes, the immigration officer said no word, put all my documents into a red folder (did you know that they use a traffic light system?) and told to go to the side room. Ugh????

It was Christmas eve and I was desperate to leave the airport to prepare turkey for my hungry brothers and when I explained my intention of coming to the US, the more friendly and younger African American officer inside just chuckled and *released* me. (He blamed the first officer who was this old white guy who looks like he's never been out of the country!)

Rob Baiton said...


Haven't seen you round in a while. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

A good looking oriental face for sure ;)

Christmas Eve would have been a real hassle, perhaps even more so than any other day (especially if one is celebrating Christmas).

For me, there has never been any hassles. Perhaps this is because I am white and have a name that is certain not to ring any bells.

However, I guess in many ways it works in reverse for me. That is, when I go to places where I stand out a little more then I tend to get a little more attention. This was the case in Indonesia, particularly with a passport full of Indonesian stamps.

It was always amusing to watch the immigration officials flick through the pages counting the stamps and seeing if they recognized any of the names that had signed off on the relevant stamps.

Then again, not so amusing at 1.00am when you really want to get home.

henry young said...

That's terrible, when will we put a stop to this nonsense. Yes, I understand that we need to protect our country, but if he says he's a STAR, then let him go by w/o any hassles. What will he think of we as Americans?

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Comments are always appreciated.

Nonsense, yes and no.

I think that countries have a right to enforce particular entry requirements on people wishing to visit and as a visitor you are always subject to those rules.

However, post 9/11 I would argue that in many cases the rules and the checks are extreme. They also tend to be arbitrary and discretionary.

In SRK's case better liaising by those sponsoring him to the US for the Independence Day parade would have averted this incident. He could have been identified and tracked through the necessary immigration requirements as the VIP many think that he is.

Then this nonsense would not have occurred.

To be honest, I am not sure that most people would care. The bigger picture here is finding a balance between protecting the interests of a great many from "possible threats" and the rights of individuals to travel as unhindered as is possible.

Once again, thanks for dropping by.

generalpervaizmusharraf said...

It won't have effect in actual fact, that's what I suppose.