| Shakeel Chotani (left) returns to Mumbai. (Fotocorp)
Shakeel Chotani was one of the 12 passengers detained by Dutch police in Amsterdam after the flight fiasco on NW0042 last week. Back in Mumbai after over 48 hours in captivity, the 32-year-old talks about his experience of being a “suspect”.
I had left home on 16th July and I never could have imagined that I will be caught in such a mess. That day, we were happy to return home. The 12 of us were innocent garment exporters who were coming home after spending over a month in a foreign land.
We had bought a number of mobile handsets for our relatives at home and during the flight, we were just trying to get them all together at one place — we were collecting them in a plastic bag. It was nice to travel with friends — and after more than a month of hard work, we were just having some fun with each other.
Since there were so many seats empty (only 149 of 263 seats were occupied) in the plane, we decided to lie down and sleep — that’s why we had moved around. Maybe this made the crew suspicious. The air marshals could have misunderstood us.
But the worst part was that when the marshals arrived, they treated us very shabbily — they behaved as if we were thieves and criminals. We were handcuffed and taken out of the plane one by one. It was very insulting. They didn’t even tell us why we were being detained.
Then we were taken into very small rooms. I have been travelling abroad for work for so many years now and have been visiting Port of Spain for the past two years, nothing like this had ever happened to me before.
They took away our passports and other essentials. I wasn’t able to call home and assure them that I was okay — I had the right to call home, they even denied me that.
There were a lot of things going on in my mind — initially I thought they were treating me like this because I was a Muslim, then I realised they were treating me like this because of my skin colour. Now I know that they panicked because we were moving around so much, but the bad treatment was unnecessary.
I don’t want to take any action. I have to go back there for business and frankly I don’t want to take any chances.