It’s now happening to Indians in Sikh turbans. Earlier if you were a Khan you got questioned /detained /screened /scanned at airports.
While Waris Ahluwalia is in the news for being barred from a flight for wearing a Turban, Irrfan Khan has gone through the ordeal on two occasions on American airports.
He opens up about his ordeal, “More than the physical torture, it's the wounds of humiliation that never heal after you undergo such a horrific experience. It happened to me on two occasions. I was detained in New York and Los Angeles airport for secondary interrogation."
"I was outraged. I was told to quietly come into a room for questioning and identification verification. I wasn't allowed to talk. When I tried to ask why I was being treated this way, I was told to keep quiet. I wasn't allowed to use my phone. They said, 'No, you just sit down.' All because my name was Irrfan Khan. You can't argue or rationalise.”
Kabir Khan had to face the brunt of 9/11 too, “I was accompanying my wife in the US along with the Morani Brothers. It was a flight from LA to Washington just 15 days after 9/11. So the fear and paranoia were not totally unjustified. We were waiting for the flight to take off talking to each other in Hindi when some passengers complained that we were talking in a 'strange' language."
"Within no time two burly FBI agents came on board and took me and my co-passengers to the front of the plane. When they got to know my name, they questioned me for more than two hours, googled my name for terrorist links and then finally allowed me to fly. They asked me if I had been to Pakistan. I told them no. If I had told them that I had been to Afghanistan, they'd have freaked out. Two other passengers on board refused to fly with us. So they were asked to deboard. So you see post 9/11 persecution comes with its inbuilt safety measures. But I honestly think a part of the global fear is justified. We can't blame people for being paranoid after what had happened,” he adds.
However when Kabir was questioned again at an American airport he refused to take it lying down.
“On a second occasion this time in New York, when I was detained I blew my top. I told this big Black American guy, 'Please clear the confusion about my identity once and for all. Or don't provide me with a visa. I don't want to come back to the US.' The guy wanted to know if it was a threat. I was taken aback. Mira Nair had to intervene. She advised me to never counter-question them. This is the free spirit of America. This 90-minute detention changed me completely. Can you imagine what a 90-day detention can do to an innocent man thrown into jail?” says Kabir Khan.
Kamal Haasan frequently gets into the ‘suspicious’ segment of the US immigration department. “Sometimes they take me aside and ask me questions. Just because we do business with America they think we are questionable. If we’re so touchy about immigration rules in American, we shouldn’t be doing business with them,” he says.
Kamal Haasan feels racial and cultural suspicion exist in every society, “Talk to an Afghani who comes to visit India. Afghani students can’t get rooms to stay in India. There’s resistance to Afghani passports in India. And why are we so touchy about American treatment? They’ve a 9/11 to caution them. With 9/11 Australia is hostile to Indians. India should stop acting paranoid about racial profiling.”
However he further cautions, “It can’t be helped. The Americans are an injured nation. They’re just being careful. It happened to me and I had to miss my flight. There was no great apology or anything. It’s rules they’re following. I’m often mistaken for a Muslim and I don’t correct the misconception. My brothers Charu Haasan and Chandra Haasan don’t have to face this. Please remember the fabric of our nation is woven with saffron, white and green. We can’t pull out any of the colours.We have to co-exist. The crusades are over.”