The incident where Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan was detained by authorities at Newark’s airport (and the ensuing brouhaha) is one of those delicious events in which everyone involved comes out looking like idiots, a delight for the neutral observer.
First, the Americans. It has only been days since the U.S. Council on International Religious Freedom published an exceptionally obtuse report, wherein they accuse India of oppression, lumping it with the likes of Somalia, Afghanistan, etc. Americans have set themselves up as exemplars on the issue of human rights, and for them to then turn around and do religious profiling makes them look like hypocrites.
Second, the Indian media. Did they notice that around the same time, Bob Dylan, who is certainly more world famous than Shah Rukh Khan, was booked by a young New Jersey policewoman for behaving strangely and not having an ID on him? Also, the list of Indian VIPs detained by U.S. is a long and illustrious one.
For all its faults, this egalitarianism is something admirable about American society. In India, there is a VIP cult with self-important persons intimidating others with that killer question, “Do you know who I am?”
Policemen cringe, knowing full well that a well-connected person may get them dismissed from service—so they let them get away, often literally, with murder.
It is therefore hypocritical of the Indian media to scream bloody murder. After all, it is not as though the Americans strip-searched Khan, or tortured him. They merely held him for an hour or two—a treatment thousands of ordinary mortals endure daily—so let’s shed no tears when a VIP is on the receiving end.
Third, the Indian government. One minister suggested reciprocating in kind when American dignitaries arrive in India. The sentiment is understandable when one is exposed to the curious favoritism that exists in Indian aiports. There is a list of people who are exempt from the security checks that the rest of us are subjected to. It consists of the Chief Justice, the President, the Speaker, and a few other high officials of the State. And then, at the bottom of the list, one person is explicitly named, and not based on any position: Robert Vadera.
“Robert who?” you might well ask. This is a young man who is married to the daughter of Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party. Why he is exempt from a security check?
“Let the law take its course” is often heard in India. Well, so it did. And we didn’t like it, did we?
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Bangalore, India.
Yes, racial profiling devalues American ideals
Only in the USA,” is usually meant to be a compliment to a country that proclaims to be a beacon of equality and fairness. But the shabby treatment meted out to movie star Shah Rukh Khan or British MP Shahid Malik flips the interpretation of the same statement; the DWB (Driving While Black) phenomenon described as a rite of passage for every African-American has found a twin in the new TWM (Travelling While Muslim) phenomenon. The ghost of the “Separate but Equal” ideology of the pre-1960s flourishes un-exorcized, ever ready to possess all facets of American life .
What is amazing is the self-proclaimed right of American bigots to snarl, snipe, and swipe at the rights of minorities in every sphere from public office to entering the country. Opponents of Obama questioned the appropriateness of a black man leading the country all through the US presidential campaign last year, while issues of “competence,” raised in the appointment of a Latina Supreme Court justice recently, couched inherent racism.
What distinguishes Shahrukh Khan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (the former Indian President who was stopped and frisked at New Delhi airport by Continental Airlines) from the thousands who endure this indignity daily is that their plight was reported, and their pain acknowledged by the world at large. They are fortunate in having the causative racism behind their torment named and condemned. That fortune has evaded Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was allegedly denied a U.S. visa because of “violations of religious freedom.”However, Christian fundamentalists flooding American airwaves with invective have not faced any consequences.
America’s self-proclaimed role as the world’s arbiter of human rights would be taken more seriously if it were not for such contradictory behavior; a country that excoriates China for its ill-treatment of Tibetan prisoners doesn’t see the necessity of treating its incarcerated minority members any better. The United States has pointed fingers at India and other developing nations for their alleged ill-treatment of detainees, even after Guantanamo Bay seriously undermined its own human rights credentials. While habeas corpus motions for arrested prisoners are routinely upheld by Indian courts, it took the intervention of the American Supreme Court to extend the same privilege to Guantanamo’s inmates .
The American system, it seems, wants to accord these principles the same fate as that of the founding fathers who created them—cherished, but long perished.
S.Gopikrishna writes on topics pertinent to India and Indians.