Furore over Continental Airlines’ frisking of former President of India
By Ravi Mata – Vancouverite India Correspondent.
A furore continues in India over Continental Airlines’ body frisking of one of the nation’s most prominent citizens – the former space program hero and president of the country – Dr. Abdul Kalam – while he was traveling from Delhi to Newark.
He was frisked at the IGI Delhi Airport by security officials of Continental Airlines while he was leaving Delhi for Newark on a Continental flight on April 21, 2009. The matter remained hidden until just two days ago.
Officials of the Central Industrial Security Force, who oversee security of the airport, said that they did not frisk Kalam, but he was frisked by officials of Continental Airlines.
Dr. Kalam, a hero in India for his role in the development of the ballistic missile program and one of nation’s most beloved Presidents, was forced to wait on the aerobridge at the directive of the station boss of Continental Airlines.
There was furor in the Parliament house where the opposition demanded a thorough probe into the matter. The Minister of Civil Aviation, Praful Patel informed the House that a show cause notice had already been served on the airline and a report filed with Delhi Police.
Why and how this news leaked out exactly after three months of the incident, is still not known. Kalam was not only frisked, but had to hand over his cell phone and wallet which was placed on the conveyor belt and screened through the X-Ray machine.
But that is not the end of the humiliation the soft-spoken former president had to put up with. The indignity continued airline officials asking him to remove his shoes for inspection. (Did they think the former President of India was a shoe-bomber?)
Indians consider this totally outrageous. And it shows in street corner discussions at political levels. He is a beloved man for India as the former President, renowned space scientists, a figure known all over the world – and a down to earth person.
There is no doubt that he is a highly respected person in this country and everyone loves him. He did not show any resistance and gladly let the airlines officials go about their drill.
An airlines spokesperson said that they have no separate drills for VIPs or VVIPs and initially they refused to apologize. That is an absolute, shameless lie. Civil Aviation Minister Patel said all airlines operating in India are given a set of guidelines to be scrupulously followed, which includes thedirective that the President, Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha (House), past and present, will not be frisked by any Airlines official when they are travelling abroad.
Ms. Jayanti Natarajan, spokesperson for the Congress in an interview with the CNN-IBN TV News Channel said: “This is highly condemnable. The external Affairs Ministry should also take up the matter with the U.S .authorities. I totally blame the airline as they have violated Sec 11 of the Act. Everyone appreciates the national outrage that followed after leaking of this report. Airlines have to follow the rules of the country in which they are operating. The Airlines should be punished and their operations suspended”.
“Ironically this comes a day after the Clinton’s visit, Kalam was treated as a commoner in stark contrast compared to the treatment which would have been given , if the passenger would be Bill Clinton or George Bush”, said the Editor of CNN -IBN News Channel.
After receiving the show cause notice, the Airline says it has apologized to Dr. Kalam. At the same time the company said it did nothing wrong.
Dr. Kalam said yesterday that he has not received any apology from the U.S. company yet.
India will not be patient too long. Indians want to see it in writing and in print, so that we know that in the future our former presidents and our dignitaries will not treated like common security threats by high-handed foreigners.