The Hari Putar Dialogues - 71
(The Hindustan Times ; New York ; 17 August : Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan was on Saturday questioned for two hours at the Newark airport in the US over his surname and was freed only after Indian diplomats intervened. The Indian government and entertainment industry reacted furiously after the 43-year-old actor, named by Newsweek last year as one of the world's 50 most powerful men, revealed how he was detained and stopped from even using his mobile telephone. Shah Rukh's manager Niloufer Qureshi earlier told IANS over telephone from Mumbai: "He was detained because his surname is Khan. He was kept until officials from the Indian embassy intervened." Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni denounced Shah Rukh's detention over religious grounds. "I don't think that this manner of detaining (in the name of religion) is justified. But in the US, several examples have surfaced where frisking takes place more than required," she told reporters in New Delhi. "There should be a tit for tat response." The actor said a large number of Indians, including organizers of the Chicago event, were waiting outside at the airport to receive him. Indian diplomats came to his rescue when they heard about his plight. )
Putar: There is a report in The Hindustan Times today that immigration officials at Newark airport detained Shah Rukh Khan for two hours.
Hari: Why did they do that?
Putar: They was suspicious that he might be a potential terrorist
Hari: And what was the basis for their suspicion?
Putar: According to the news report his name showed up on a computer screen as someone with a suspicious sounding surname.
Hari: You mean Khan?
Hari: Is that a reason to be suspicious? Khan is probably one of the most common Muslim last names in the world. There must be thousands and thousands of Khans in the world.
Putar: That's true. It's rather stupid to be suspicious of anyone with a Muslim name. There is nothing wrong with having a security system at the airport and even conducting random checks. The problem is that why should it take someone two hours to figure something out.
Hari: Shah Rukh could have telephoned someone. There must have been many people there at the airport to receive him.
Putar: Oh, they were, but you see, he wasn't allowed to use his mobile phone. The immigration staff could have cleared their suspicions fairly easily and quickly. There was no need to detain him for two hours.
Hari: How would they have done that?
Putar: Simple. All that the official had to do was to do a Google search for Shah Rukh Khan. Thousands of entries would have shown up.
Hari: Yes, but how would they have known that this is the same Shah Rukh Khan? There must be hundreds of Shah Rukh Khans in the world.
Putar: Many of the entries that a Google search will throw up will have his photograph. Otherwise you can do a Google image search. That will throw up hundreds of entries with his photo. Immigration authorities have used Google in other cases.
Hari: That's true. Why didn't the immigration official do this?
Putar: He was obviously not a highly intelligent person. And against stupidity its been said that even the Gods argue in vain. Ambika Soni the Information Minister is reported to have said that there should be a tit for tat.
Hari: We should improve our airport security, and interrogate people where necessary, including Americans but there is no point in simply harassing American visitors in retaliation.
Putar: Shah Rukh gave a more sensible answer. Asked if he felt like reacting in a similar way, he replied: "If they want I can frisk Angelina Jolie when she is here (India)."
Hari: That's funny.
Putar: Ironically enough, Shah Rukh Khan's next big release is a Karan Johar film called 'My Name is Khan'. Fox Studios have bought distribution rights for a record 100 crores.
Hari: Shah Rukh should have carried a CD of one of his films in his hand baggage and given it to the immigration official to download on his computer. That would have cleared all his suspicions.
Putar: But the film lasts three hours. If the immigration official got engrossed watching it'
Hari: Well, once his new film is released he can just carry 'My Name is Khan' in his hand luggage and give a copy to any suspicious immigration official.
Putar: Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: If Khan is a suspicious name according to US immigration officials, so also must be the case with other Muslim surnames such as Ansari or Hussein?
Putar: Do you think Americans immigration officials will think Hussein is a suspicious name?
Hari: Of course they will. Hussein or Hussain is a very important Muslim name, especially amongst Shias. Every year during the festival of Moharram the followers of Shia Islam come out into the streets in large processions beating their breasts and lamenting the martyrdom of Ali's son Hussein.
Putar: But there is one case where US immigration officials will hesitate to be suspicious of a person with the name Hussein. And they may even fear to interrogate him even if the name flashes on the computer screen, as was the case with Shah Rukh.
Hari: And what is that case?
Putar: When Hussein is the middle name and is followed by Obama. Or do you think the stupidity of some immigration officials knows no limits?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.