Monday, August 3, 2009

Opinion: Justice KT Thomas on the frisking of Dr. Kalam

This is in continuation to my post Controversy: The frisking of Dr. Kalam at New Delhi airport

Fellow blogger Nebu was kind enough to alert me on an Op-Ed piece in The Hindu of July 25 by Justice KT Thomas about the frisking of Dr. Kalam, on the same day it was published. You can read it at

Most of the points presented in the write-up by the former Justice of the Supreme Court of India are valid. But in my opinion, what he has stated is a personal opinion and not a judicial assessment. And, on certain counts, my views are different.

How Dr. Kalam feels about the incident is not very material. What is important is how the people of India react to it. Egalitarian state does not mean a rank-less society. The Indian protocol concedes ranks and the citizens expect that to be honored. Whether such distinctions are necessary is another matter.

Do we still have hang-ups of the ‘feudal and colonial culture’ as Justice Thomas states? Maybe, yes. But the Indian ethos is quite different from that of a (European) country where the King might bicycle to a downtown bar for an informal meeting with his subjects.

What are the fundamentals involved in this matter? As I see it, the basic questions are:

1. Is there is a valid law in this country that exempts persons of certain category from security checks at airports?

2. If there is such a law, is it not to be enforced?

3. Is an aerobridge at an Indian airport Indian territory or not? This is relevant because the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) stipulation is that the passengers be subjected to a final security check in the aerobridge. It is not clear to me whether Dr. Kalam was frisked in the aerobridge or in the terminal.

4. Whether one likes the law or not, if it is breached, should not action be taken against the offender?

In my mind, the answer to all these questions is ‘Yes’. If that is right, prompt action should have been taken against those who broke the law of the land.

One can very well understand the compulsions of the Americans. But curtsy never hurt anybody. A little finesse in handling the situation could have minimized the negative impact, though it would have still meant flouting the laws of India.

The TSA reportedly mentioned in their statement about the issue, ‘if required, private screening would be made available to such dignitaries on request’. Why wasn’t that offered to Dr. Kalam?

The answer is: ‘Downright crassness’.


Maddy said...

Two things - I saw a TSA board just last Monday at the airport about this special frisking. It says it is available on request. Why did the entourage with Dr Kalam not request it? but this is done usually at the normal screening points, not the jetway, so ruled out.
I heard a lovely interview of Gen Colin Powell ex Secy of state, the other day by Larry King. Colin said that every time he flew he was frisked and checked thoroughly. he said that as a senior dignitary he expected them to do it and since he was one, they did it or they may have got into big trouble with him noticing their laxity. Larry asked, do they not know who you are? and he said, yes, of course and that is why they ensure i am frisked thoroughly.

Anand Antony said...

Legally the points raised by you may be correct. But commonsense tells me that the airline should have some authority for frisking. The reason is that what happens during the flight does not occur in the country of embarkation. Now I can't agree more with you on the need for courtesy. You are right in saying that it is the Indian ethos that is paramount in this situation. Though we should be a bit careful here - the ethos itself is constantly changing and many aspects of the ranking system in the society is unacceptable for the younger generation. There could be yet another reason for the public outcry. There is a perception in India that sometimes the US authorities show arrogance while checking in Indian passengers. I am not willing to write it off as entirely baseless. Given this perception, may be the Kalam incident served as a flashpoint for many people in India to react. Any way we can take some positives from this incident. Hopefully the Indian personnel at the airports will be better trained in the exact rules and procedures in place and in incidents like this they will act with professionalism and firmness. And I hope that they will act with fairness and evenness - giving the common Indian passenger the same respect they would have given to the Indian VIPs and foreigners. And let the Indian VIPS admire and ensure the professionalism of the officers as Colin Powel did (or as JRD Tata or Sam Manekshaw used to do for that matter)

Kariyachan said...

We must abandon the hierarchy, and start frisking everyone, ir-respective of rank or designation, both Indians and foreigners. It would serve better for home security. Our authorities should show the courage to enforce them and lead by example.