New Delhi, April 13: The US embassy here apologised to Shah Rukh Khan today for “any inconvenience” to him at a New York airport on his way to Yale University yesterday, but India said “more than an apology” would be needed.
It summoned US deputy chief of mission Donald Lu to express “concern” and said the apology was inadequate as this was the third time the actor had been “detained” at a US airport.
External affairs minister S.M. Krishna has asked ambassador Nirupama Rao to take the matter up with the highest US authorities.
The carefully worded apology, expressed in a media statement by embassy spokesman Peter Vrooman, avoided the word “detention” and was described as “mechanical” by an Indian official. The statement said the US strove to “welcome all legitimate travellers to the US warmly, and we apologise for any inconvenience that Mr Shah Rukh Khan may have experienced”.
“More than an apology will have to take place,” junior foreign minister Preneet Kaur said. The junior minister for parliamentary affairs, Rajiv Shukla, said what had happened was “not appropriate”.
Khan was held up for nearly two hours by immigration officials, apparently because he was carrying the wrong visa. He had arrived in a private plane with Nita Ambani, wife of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, whose daughter studies at Yale. Immigration officials cleared Nita and the rest of their group immediately but Khan was stopped.
He was given immigration clearance only after the Indian consulate-general intervened. Vrooman said the US customs and border protection authorities later expressed “profound” apology in a letter to the consulate. The letter apparently said Khan’s name was “flagged” in the system and airport staff needed “senior” authorities’ approval to clear him.
The US homeland security department’s database of suspects who are not to be allowed to enter the country often lacks any details apart from their name. This can lead to misidentification.
Vrooman detailed US efforts to put in place systems to address such problems. If a passenger is selected for secondary screening multiple times, they can use the department of homeland security’s Traveller Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) to resolve issues like misidentification.
“DHS TRIP routes your redress request to the appropriate office for review and adjudication,” he said. TRIP can be accessed at www.dhs.gov/trip.
Vrooman said many Americans were great fans of Indian movies “and respect the work of the great actor, Shah Rukh Khan”.
He added: “My own daughter always asks to see SRK’s Chammak Challo video song. I am thrilled that he was recognised by Yale University yesterday as a Chubb Fellow.”
Khan joked to his Yale audience: “Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kicked the star out of stardom.”
He said he had always had his “small victories” even in such circumstances. “They (immigration) always ask me how tall I am and I always lie and say 5 feet 10 inches. Next time I am going to get more adventurous. (If they ask me) ‘What colour are you?’ I am going to say ‘White’.”
J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: “Honestly, what’s the big deal?? This airport detention thing happens all the time and to all sorts of people. Get over it.”