India on Friday reacted sharply to actor Shah Rukh Khan's two-hour detention at a New York airport on Thursday, saying the apology the United States offered was nothing but mechanical. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna asked India's Ambassador in Washington, Nirupama Rao, to take up the issue. He said detention and apology had become a habit with the U.S., which could not continue.
The actor was detained for over two hours by immigration officials after he arrived from India in a private plane with a group that included Nita, wife of Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, to address students at Yale University.
While the rest of the team passed through immigration, Mr. Khan was detained and questioned. The actor was finally allowed to go following intervention by the Consulate-General of India (CGI) in New York.
This is the second time the actor has been detained for detailed questioning at a U.S. airport and he joins several Indian Muslims, including the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and BJP leader Shahnawaz Khan, who had been singled out for attention by the U.S. authorities because of their surnames.
Apart from Mr. Khan's high profile, there is an additional irony in his latest detention: In 2010, he starred in a Bollywood movie set in the U.S., My Name is Khan, which critiqued the official stereotyping of Muslims as suspicious persons.
While the U.S. was quick to apologise, there was no attempt at redress. The fine print after contriteness had been expressed was to advise the actor to register on a website that takes note of inconveniences suffered by a traveller to the U.S. such as racialism or repeated detentions because of mistaken identity.
The actor himself made light of his detention, tweeting that “whenever I start feeling arrogant about myself, I visit USA. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom.”
In Delhi, following up on an apology letter by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to the CGI, U.S. Embassy spokesperson Peter Vrooman summoned TV cameras for a readout to dampen the public relations damage. Describing the Bollywood movie star as a “great actor,” he said that even his daughter was taken in by Mr. Khan's movies and recalled a song from his latest movie that he claimed was the child's favourite.