Former Indian president told: We don't care who you are – take off your shoes

Andrew Buncombe
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:38

An American airline has been forced to apologise to a former president of India after insisting that he take off his shoes and be frisked before he boarded a plane to the US.

The Indian government has asked the police to file a report against Continental Airlines after it emerged that APJ Abdul Kalam had been forced to go through the security checks. Under Indian law, former presidents and a host of other officials are exempt from such checks. The Civil Aviation Minister has said the act was "unpardonable" and that stringent action would be taken.

The airline, which was flying between Delhi and New Jersey, said that under US law, all passengers travelling to the US had to pass through security before boarding a plane heading to America.

It said there were no exemptions to this rule and all passengers underwent an additional security check carried out by airline staff at the jet-bridge.

However, as uproar grew among politicians as to what they said was a snub to Dr Kalam, the airline issued an apology, saying: "Continental Airlines apologises to [Dr Kalam] for any misunderstanding and/or inconvenience related to the security screening. Our intention was never to offend Dr Kalam or the sentiments of the people of India."

In a country obsessed with society's stratification and an individual's position within it, there are 32 categories of officials and politicians who under Indian law do not need to pass security when boarding a domestic flight.

At all Indian airports, signs list those who can avoid a frisking. They range from judges to the spouses of foreign ambassadors. Two years ago, controversy ensued when the heads of the three wings of the armed forces demanded that they too should be added to the list; their demand was met.

Ironically, the one person unruffled by what happened is Dr Kalam. The well-liked scientist-turned-politician, credited with developing India's nuclear weapon, was apparently not upset about having to go through security. The incident happened in April but details of the security check only became public this week. Dr Kalam's spokesman, H Sheridon, told The Indian Express: "He was not at all upset. He doesn't object to security procedures, he goes through all checks wherever he goes. That's why no protest was lodged."

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