Shah Rukh Khan, the Indian film star who has been the face of top western brands such as Pepsi, Compaq, TAG Heuer and Nokia, was held this weekend for protracted questioning at a US airport, igniting ire among south Asians and US Muslims.
The incident, which dominated Indian newspapers and TV channels on the independence day weekend, came as Mr Khan was in production of My Name is Khan, a feature film about an autistic Indian Muslim treated as a terror suspect in the US after the September 11 terror attacks.
Fox Star Studios this month agreed to pay $20m for the international marketing and distribution rights for the film, the largest such deal for a Bollywood film.
Mr Khan, who was on his way to participate in independence day celebrations in Chicago, told Indian media organisations he was held for around two hours at Newark Airport outside New York, asked repeatedly about his plans and contacts in the US, and freed only after Indian consular officials intervened. He complained he felt “angry and humiliated.”
US customs authorities dispute the star’s account, saying he was questioned for little more than an hour as part of routine screening, and released after his papers were found to be in order. They also said the loss of his baggage by the airline had also created delays.
Timothy Roemer, the new US ambassador to India, issued a statement pledging to investigate what happened and calling Mr Khan “a global icon” and “a very welcome guest in the United States.”
The incident has touched a nerve among Indians and American Muslims already resentful at perceived harassment by US security officials, with some likening the affair to the outpouring to the anger among African-Americans over the recent arrest of prominent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates at his home.
Ambika Soni, India’s tourism minister, told television reporters the treatment of Mr Khan had “hurt every Indian” and suggested a tit-for-tat in which US citizens visiting India were also subjected to greater security procedures.
“Wow, even Shah Rukh Khan gets the typical Muslim American experience in US airports,” wrote NabiaS on Twitter. Markatique, another Twitterer, wrote, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
Some Indian law enforcement officials, however, expressed appreciation for the power of US security officials, contrasting it to India, where officers are routinely subjected to political interference in carrying out their work, especially where it concerns VIPs.
The furore comes soon after a controversy centring on the frisking of APJ Abdul Kalam, India’s former president, at New Delhi’s airport by ground staff of Continental Airlines.
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