Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri
Hony. Dean, Centre For Economic Research and Advanced Studies, IIPM -
SRK's interrogation is not the issue. The issue is that Americans need to learn humility.
The week’s big story was Shahrukh Khan's interrogation in the USA. True, as people would say, why give so much importance to SRK being detained in the airport for two hours, when there are so many more important socio-economic issues bogging the country – from poverty to illiteracy! But truth also is that while socio-economic issues should be picked up constantly – and we at The Sunday Indian do attempt the same most religiously – yet, there are the SRKs who will make news from time to time because they too impact the country in many ways. And this time around, SRK’s detention has brought to light the plight of thousands of others who go through a similar kind of a treatment on a most regular basis. Personally speaking, I haven’t ever been subjected to a detailed profiling; but yes, the kind of questions and the way I have been asked were good enough for me to decide years back that I would not go to the USA unless it is a matter of utter emergency. And thankfully, there has been no such thing as ‘utter emergency’ that has been able to take me to USA for years now.
My dislike for Americanism, of course, has a lot to do with their greed driven material culture as well. But that apart, I have always preferred Europe to America, even in the pre 9/11 days, and felt that while Europeans have always been at the top of civilized behaviour, Americans – despite their pretence of being the global leaders – have always lagged far behind in terms of civilized behaviour. The proof lies in the high rates of homicides, rapes, drug abuse and racial abuse Americans suffer when compared to Europeans. Countries in Europe face security challenges similar to America and undertake equally similar strict checks at their airports. European authorities also, at times, take you aside for profiling – especially in the UK. But when they do the same, at every moment during the time one is being questioned, one feels that this indeed is the need of the hour. The world definitely requires to see the end of terrorism; and if some people who look like us or have a similar skin colour have been at the forefront of such destruction, then we surely need these checks for safeguarding our own future. The way the staff at European airports are trained to handle such profiling and questioning is amazing. Not only are they very very polite and courteous, but they would also never make you feel like a suspected terrorist.
The feeling one gets in America is quite the opposite. The staff lacks basic courtesy and they behave with you as if they own the world. That you are a suspect is made obvious to you in numerous ways. And that is precisely the reason why Indians, from Abdul Kalam to Irrfan Khan to now SRK, have had to face awkwardness from something to do with America and not Europe or any other country/continent. It is these qualities of highhandedness and arrogance that make Americans trip to make such a mistake with an SRK. Because even if he needs to be checked as per their normal procedure, it would take any official only about fifteen minutes to realise who SRK is – in whichever part of the world one is, and especially in USA where one doesn’t have to look too far to spot an Indian colleague – to let him go. Detention for a period of two hours, by any standards, is extreme humiliation for any citizen; and definitely for someone who is so easily identifiable.
Having said all that, it is also worthwhile mentioning that the entire security detailing that Americans have been undertaking has in reality been a very advantageous exercise – they surely have prevented another 9/11 from occurring. It is just that Americans need to change the dirty legacy that Bush has left behind and learn more humility. America needs to have that humility transferred into the personalities of its citizens. Barack Obama is doing well to undo a lot of Bush’s legacy personally. But it hasn’t yet gotten translated into the personalities of his office bearers; and that is why it’s not just about SRK, but even the Harvard professor who is handcuffed in the most humiliating manner by the American police under the same pretext – they didn’t know who he was! The problem is that in their highhandedness, Americans don’t care to know who is who because if you are a black, brown or Muslim, then you are to be treated badly even if your own President is a black man today.
On another tangent though, as I say this, I feel that before we talk about Americans, we need to take a look at ourselves too. The manner in which we have historically treated the majority of Dalits and Muslims in India in terms of their access to mainstream education, employment etc. is most shameful. And even today, despite such a huge electoral defeat, we have a party like BJP refusing to change its stance vis-a-vis the Muslims and sending such wrong and further alienating signals to the masses by expelling a Jaswant Singh for having said a few good things about Jinnah.
Coming back to the Americans, I would conclude by saying that until they are able to make their people more cultured about human dealings, many like me would rather stay away from America than take the stress of an unnecessary discomfort or humiliation at their airports, and that too at the very start of a leisure or business trip. What they are doing is right, but the way they are doing needs to undergo a vast improving change. For that, I guess Barack will have to drink many more beers with his people – similar to what he did with the Harvard professor and the police officer who handcuffed him – to drill down some humility and respect for human beings. They must realise that every Khan is not a terrorist – something that SRK’s character says in his forthcoming film – “My name Khan... And I am not a terrorist!”