Indian outrage at actor's US airport questioning

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 16, 2009 at 7:10 AM EDT

Indian newspapers on Sunday railed against the questioning of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan at a New York airport after the actor suggested he had been singled out because he was Muslim.

Khan, who was held up at Newark Liberty International Airport, told an Indian television station by telephone that Khan "is a Muslim name and I think the name is common on their checklist".

"Anger erupts over Shahrukh's insult," read the front page of the Hindi-language Dainik Jagran, while the Mail Today declared "Humiliating religious profiling of iconic star at US airport shocks India."

But US officials said that Khan, India's leading screen heartthrob, was subject only to routine procedures when he landed on Friday.

US Customs and Border Protection agency spokesman Kevin Corsaro told AFP that one reason Khan, 43, had been delayed was that his luggage was lost.

Citing privacy concerns, the agency declined to provide specifics but said the incident had lasted little more than an hour.

"The inspection process may include a more in-depth interview and baggage examination," the agency said in a statement.

Khan, who took part in celebrations in Chicago on Saturday marking India's Independence Day, said the way he had been treated left him "angry and humiliated".

Fox Star Studios has recently struck a deal to finance and distribute "My Name is Khan", a movie due out next year starring Khan as an Indian Muslim setting out on a journey across the US.

Airport searches are a sensitive privacy issue in India, where similar outrage erupted last month when former president Abdul Kalam, also a Muslim, was frisked by US airline staff in Delhi before boarding a flight to New York.

Kalam was searched despite protocol at Indian airports exempting dignitaries from security checks, and the airline later apologised.

Indian government ministers and fellow Bollywood stars sprang to Khan's defence at the weekend.

"The way we are frisked -- for example I too was frisked -- we should also do the same to them," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said.

"I don't understand how in the name of religion, frisking can be done for anyone like this."

Indian actors told newspapers of their experiences at the hands of US immigration officials, who are often accused by human rights groups of racial profiling.

Irrfan Khan, who played the police inspector in last year's hit film Slumdog Millionaire, said that US screening staff seemed "threatened by any Muslim passport".

"I can understand America's need for caution after 9/11 but they also need to be a little more thoughtful about their methods," he said, adding he had been detained three times for questioning in various parts of the world.

Neil Nitin Mukesh said he had been detained in New York by an officer who appeared to believe he was too fair-skinned to be Indian and may have a false passport.

Shahrukh Khan's troubles were "yet another example of American paranoia post-9/11", director Kabir Khan said. "It saddens me to say this but I don't think the US will ever be cured of Islamophobia."

US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer attempted to calm the furore by issuing a statement describing Khan as a "global icon" who was a welcome guest in the United States.




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