Act sternly

India must act sternly against the humiliating treatment that US officials have meted out repeatedly to the country’s dignitaries. It has emerged that former president Abdul Kalam was subjected to a double frisking by JFK airport security officials in September. Kalam had apparently undergone a ‘private screening’ in the airport. However, officials entered the plane later, took away his coat and shoes for frisking. Kalam was subjected to similar humiliation in 2009 too when the US’ Continental Airlines staff stopped and frisked him before he boarded a flight to the US in Delhi. This, despite the fact that he is on the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security’s list of people that are exempted from security checking in India. Last year, India’s then ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, was pulled out of a security line and frisked by security agents in Mississippi. Former defence minister George Fernandes, Indian ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Puri and actors Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Mammooty are among those who have undergone humiliation at the US airports. As usual, the US government has expressed its ‘deep regrets over the inconvenience’ caused to Kalam. However, what Kalam was subjected to was not just a minor inconvenience but an insult.

Under US rules, former presidents do not fall into the category of persons that are exempted from security screening. Thus the ‘private screening ‘ that Kalam was subjected to was in accordance with US rules. It was what followed i.e. the taking away of his shoes and coat that was in poor taste.  And such treatment of our dignitaries has happened too often for India to brush it aside as the work of an over-diligent and ill-informed junior official. A part of the problem lies in the fact that we fall all over ourselves to please visiting American officials. We extend them special privileges and break Indian rules to ingratiate ourselves with them. Hence, the insufferable arrogance and insensitivity of American officialdom.

India has protested the treatment meted out to Kalam. It has done so in the past too when similar incidents occurred. But such protests haven’t improved matters. India must consider seriously CPM general-secretary Prakash Karat’s suggestion to take ‘reciprocal action’ on the lines of the Brazilians. Apparently, in Brazil’s airports, American citizens stand in separate queues and are subjected to fingerprinting and questioning as are Brazilians visiting the US. Giving American dignitaries a taste of their own medicine is the best way to make the US stop humiliating our dignitaries.

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