The Many Issues That Surface Every Time SRK is Detained by U.S. Immigration


by Sundeep Hans

When you have billions of fans across the globe (I am unabashedly one of them, even though I haven’t been feeling his latest few movies), when the dialogues of your movies are so iconic that the President of the United States of America quotes them, and your initials are enough for instant name recognition. It must really, really suck when all of that means nothing to the US immigration officer asking you to “Please follow me, sir.”

Shah Rukh Khan, or SRK as he’s known to his billions of admirers (seriously), was detained by US immigration once again last week, at LAX this time. It was his third time. He tweeted his annoyance with a couple of cheeky tweets and started trending immediately.

The people tweeting away fell into roughly two groups — SRK fans/defenders and SRK detractors/chickens-coming-home-to-roost type folks. The tweets ranged from the hilarious to the downright mean.

The first group derided the US for being oblivious to the awesomeness of their hero. Some literally were calling him “India’s hero.” The die-hard fans (devotees!) were incensed he was treated this way. Even those who are not fans were riled up that “India’s national treasure” was disrespected in this way.

[Side note: Indians do not play around with their nationalism. The pride in all things Indian, especially when on the global stage, is almost tangible and is defended with a vengeance by Indians in general, and the Indian Twitterverse in particular. Throw in the honor of a Bollywood Superstar into the mix (I’m generalizing here, I know, but the evidence on twitter at least, speaks for itself), and everyone loses their minds. The level of adoration enjoyed by Bollywood stars in India (and abroad) needs to be seen to be believed (I speak from experience!). Just ask Canadian comedian Russell Peters about his ill-fated joke about another ‘national treasure’ Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan. Basically, any perceived slight on one of their heroes is grounds for complete obliteration…at least on twitter.]

The second group made up of the SRK detractors is interesting. The nationalistic pride is still there and since it’s unbridled by the devotion to SRK, it comes across almost stronger. Some of the tweets are…UGLY. Sometimes hinting at, and other times blatantly pointing to SRK’s religion as proof of his sympathies towards Pakistan and, therefore, Islamic radicalism. They claim that he is not Indian enough (how he manages all this while being happily married to a Hindu woman for decades and raising children in both faiths is beyond me).

He also recently spoke out about the intolerance in India. This point, in particular, irked many.

SRK enjoys the kind of power and privilege in India we mere mortals can only dream of so when he gets checked by immigration, a minor case of schadenfreude is understandable. They simultaneously (and gleefully) point out his “whining” because his power doesn’t extend to the United States while being angry he would subject himself and India to this kind of humiliation. They too correlate (perhaps unintentionally) SRK’s honor to India’s…and in turn, their own.

There is a third group — the rest of us. We understand, a little too well, how SRK must feel. Come on people! Racial profiling exists, and for the regular Joes/Jafars/Jagmeets/Joses of the world, it can definitely suck a lot more.

[Read More: Islamophobia Damages the Mental Health of Young South Asians: Here’s What We Can Do]

Seriously, though, the fact we have diplomats and high-ranking officials from both countries tweeting and retweeting responses, just goes to show the whole “Stars: They’re Just Like Us” thing is a complete lie. The almost immediate apology from the US ambassador to India following the incident is clearly indicative of the separation of SRK from the masses.

As a Canadian, I’ve crossed the border via car countless times with my family, including my dad in a bright red turban, and have only ever been detained once. When I went across the border with my dearest friend and her family — they’re Muslim — we were asked to step out of the car and then the car was checked with some serious looking contraption. She said it happens to her every time she travels with her brothers.

So yes, being detained by US immigration because of your name sucks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘Badshah of Bollywood’, the former Indian President — APJ Abdul Kalam, or any of us.

Little kids aren’t spared either. If your name is on the ‘No Fly List’, sorry kid, tough luck, just ask little Syed Adam Ahmed or his parents. Being escorted from a flight because the way you look or sound made somebody else uncomfortable, definitely sucks. As I’ve said previously, names are important, a paradox really — they say so much, yet so little about who you are.

Safety is a priority, as it should be, and I’m happy there are policies and procedures in place to make it as safe as possible for me to travel. But these kinds of stories keep popping up and are reflective of the larger fear of our society, a fear that is being perpetuated by some leaders as a means for political victory.

Safety and respect aren’t mutually exclusive…we can both. And truly, there has been no indication, either from SRK himself or the US Immigration officials, that anybody was disrespectful during the whole situation. While some policies and procedures can be re-evaluated to ensure they are grounded in equitable and inclusive principles, for sure, it all ended pretty well for SRK.

I love that his tweets were fun (he’s a charmer!). Also, because he is one of the biggest stars on the planet, this incident did get a lot of traction. Like Waris Ahluwalia and Jus Reign before him, even more so in fact, SRK is in the privileged position to do something about it, or at least have something done about it. He isn’t the first celebrity profiled, nor the last…it might happen to him again no matter the promises he’s been given, but I hope he never stops talking about it.

This post was originally published on and republished with the author’s permission. 

srkSundeep Hans was born in Toronto, raised in Brampton, with a slight detour via Punjab. She has a masters degree in Global Diplomacy from the University of London, a bachelors degree in History from the University of Southern California, and is finishing up her post-graduated certificate in Ethics. She works in the non-clinical side at William Osler Health System with a focus on health equity and inclusion. She loves to read, travel and talk to anyone every chance she gets. 
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