Should Kalam have been frisked?

July 21, 2009

Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s frisking at the Delhi international airport has sparked uproar in the Indian media.

Former President Abdul KalamKalam is one of India’s most popular presidents, his tenure remembered both for his common touch and his earlier role in India’s rise as a nuclear power.

The government has filed a police report against Continental Airlines, whose staff frisked Kalam, violating a Bureau of Civil Aviation Security directive exempting specified VIPs and VVIPs from security checks.

Social networking sites were abuzz with angry Indians wondering how Americans would have reacted if, for example, former U.S. president Bill Clinton had been frisked.

For its part, the airline issued a statement saying both there were no exceptions to its security policy and it believed that Kalam had not been offended.

What do YOU think? Should Kalam have been frisked?


It is not a matter of Kalam ji is offeneded or not. The matter is – the former President of India was searched against the protocol of the Government of India. Get it?

Posted by Johny | Report as abusive

The Continental security officer had violated protocol to be accorded to an ex-President, immediate ex-President of India, for that matter. This was done even after he was identified by the Indian security staff, who protested the security formalities for the former president of India. I am surprised that many people here argue that he is a civilian and on a private visit. In that case, Government of India (or any government for that matter) need not have issued any protocol instructions at all. Protocols are meant for giving priority and honor reserved for certain persons (including civilians, like Robert Vadhera, for special reasons) and functioning dignitaries. It is being followed all over the world. Continental Airlines had already been issued a list and formalities meant for protocol dignitaries. Continental Airlines could defend the decision of its security officer, only if it had a protested on the receipt of protocol advise from Govt of India. Otherwise it had violated Indian Law, despite its concern for rules of TSA. Continental can not violate Indian Laws in Indian soil. Hence Continental Airlines (or its security officer) had definitely committed willful violation of Indian Law. Hence CA becomes answerable to Indian Laws and should face consequences for the insensitive, arrogant and despicable action of its officers. Whoever holds Dr Kalam or President Clinton or President Bush as an ordinary citizen must have his/head head examined.

Posted by Kasthuri N Ravilla | Report as abusive

Continental should be slapped a very heavy financial penalty, may be 10 million US dollars, for the incident.
Continental’s argument that they are held accountable to TSA, is pure bullshit. TSA has no jurisdiction on Indian soil.

Posted by haresh | Report as abusive

the airline operations from india should be banned and fine to be imposed in such a way like $1000 for every indian (100 billion * $1000)

How the hell that bloody security officals (by the way who the hell are they to carrouyt security operations in india) there should be a new law where all the security acts at airports to be carried out by a special security force like RPF and no internatioanl airline staff to be allowd to carry security isssues

Posted by mangesh | Report as abusive

I dont think there is anything wrong with the regular security checks done at the airport. If any individual or any VIP for that matter want to be treated like one as acording to the Indian Govt.’s protocol he should make prior arrangements for it.
If CA had already got the list of individuals then its violation of Indian Law. and they just cant do it on Indian soil despite TSA rules.

Posted by NIITN SAINI | Report as abusive

I think Dr. Kalam should decide. He is such a humble person that he would never get offended by such things – in fact with his attitude of leading by examples, this incidence should be taken as a lesson by politicians and diplomats across the globe.

I understand the importance of being a VIP or VVIP, but why should they be treated differently from any other citizen of a country? We should not make this incidence an issue of national pride – Dr. Kalam would certainly not like it.

Posted by Kushal | Report as abusive

This is not about Dr Kalam being offended or not, it is also not about how the staff of the Continental Airlines behaved, IT IS about what the Airlines decided. Not the person, but THE COMPANY. Kalam was well recognised by the staff present there, CISF officers even protested Kalam’s being frisked (yes, he WAS frisked). He was again “body checked” just before boarding the plane, even after going through the normal security check-point and metal detectors etc. The matter went to the level of airlines’ country director and then the company decided that Kalam would be body checked. Even the so called apology issued yesterday by the airline speaks volumes about the mindset it is working with. Indian authorities issued a notice on July 9, to the airline on Protocol Violation and asked them to reply within 7 days. But the airline chose not to respond. Till yesterday they have not replied. They issued apology only after an uproar in the Indian media and Parliament. The apology itself clarifies that they don’t bother about Indian rules. I just give a portion of the apology for you to read.

This makes it clear that it is not about a mistake on the part of airlines staff, it is about there conscious decision to ignore Protocol issued by Indian Authorities. It also means that “unless the Indian regulations are made compatible to the US regulations, this will happen again.” They are knowingly violating Indian regulations on Indian soil. They are apologising about the “MISUNDERSTANDING AND/OR INCONVENIENCE RELATED TO THE SECURITY SCREENING” and not even accepting their mistake, let alone regret it. This is high-headedness and contempt of Indian laws.

Posted by viplav | Report as abusive

Would Continental frisk any ex-american president?

Posted by Suman | Report as abusive

July 22nd, 2009 12:37 pm GMT – Posted by Benito M

Perhaps there should be more Indian “outrage” at poverty in the nation or the very suspicious Mumbai attack which smells of CIA/Mossad.=====

Benito, FYI the terrorist who got caught in mumbai terror just confessed and he does acknowledge that he is from pakistan. I think you are just not out of date with news but you are out of touch with reality to suggest that mumbai attack smells of cia/mossad. i know you can believe whatever you want but I suggest you give the retarded brain of yours some rest. probably it might think sense after that.

Posted by vivek | Report as abusive

Its very simple..As long as the same Airlines maintains this protocols to other American VVIP’s such as Bush, Obama, H Clinton and etc.

Else let the Indian Security personals should do the so called frisk for those US VIP while they visit India.

Posted by Srini | Report as abusive

The complete matter has troubled and made us Indians look like idiots and without any power to put their foot down in this embarrassing situation where a former president and one of the best presidents India ever had and also as a individual who has a lot of knowledge and source of pride to all Indians where ever they may stay. This makes us all Indians who live around the globe go with only one policy make a decision not to travel themselves or allow any of there associated people or companies travel on Continental Airlines and discourage even others by making them aware of the behavior of the Airline management and their policies which will bring down their revenues and bring them to understand that they cannot mess around with one of the most growing nation in the world.

Posted by Yunus Baxamusa | Report as abusive

It is not about a person being VVIP or not. It is about protocol and thats it. Indian law (Bureau Of Civil Aviation Security “BCAS” in this case) has a set of guidelines for people being exempt from frisking.

Continental cannot follow TSA guidelines in India because TSA has no jurisdiction in India. It has to follow BCAS regulations. If the airliner finds it tough, they are free to packup and leave. But you just cannot disregard another country’s rules on thier soil and show disrespect to thier Ex-president.

Continental, please count me out of your list of customers

Posted by Wooferswitch | Report as abusive

This is another example of Western Companies especially Airline companies treating any body without white skin as terrorists especially people of Asian origin and/or has a muslim name.

Just can’t understand the mindset of these people in the 21st Century.

Mr. Kalam was just not an Ex-president of the largest true democracy of the World but was also a highly respected Scientist.

Continetal Airlines get your facts right.

Posted by Sandeep | Report as abusive

You would think someone kicked a cow or something…who cares?

Posted by cennis | Report as abusive

Why was he flying Continental to begin with?

Posted by Emily | Report as abusive


Posted by ELI | Report as abusive

what would have happened if bush have been frisked think carefully and reply I know most people may say Yes but one has to understand that some people should be trated with more respect because of their devotion and support to the country. Think what have you done to the country before you say Yes. I agree that all the poloticians have to be frisked as they all are corrupt where as an President of india theoretically speakibg isnt a polotician. he isnt elected by pople. they become because of their commitment to the country.

Posted by ismail | Report as abusive

kabhi kabhaar lagta hai ki wartmaan sirkar mein US ka jabardast khauf hai, when it comes to US related affairs, itni jyada darpok pana dekhne ko mil raha hai ki poochiye mat..hamari Pakistan ke prati kya ravayya ho, ye US decide karega ham 26/11 jaisi ghatnaoan ka liye man mashosh ke baithe rahein…ye sab cheezein US decide karega…ham kewal kathputli ban ke rah gaye hain, jiski dor US ke haath mein hai….Business growth aur economic prospertiy ke naam pe ham bike se jaa rahe hain, sara swabhimaan, economic prosperity ke naam pe bech ja diya jane laga hai..bahut jyada atma-chintan ka waqt aa chuka hai…hamein apne swabhimaan ka bhi dhyaan rahe, ye hamein bhoolna nahin chaiye….kewal economy hi sab khuch nahin…deshabhimaan, swabhimaan bhi kuch valuable gun bhoolein nahin….is particular ghatna ke virodh mein sirkaar ko turant CA ka licence revoke kar dena chaiye.

Niz Bhasa Unnati Ahe, Sab Unnati Ko Mool…. Jai Bharat!!

Posted by Bulle Shah | Report as abusive

OK, so let me get this straight. The Indian people are upset because a dignitary was wanded. Not frisked, wanded. This dignitary didn’t object, was cooperative, and at no point said there may be a problem. He goes on with his US diplomatic trip, and waits 3 months to complain to Continental.

See, we had this thing about 8 years ago where several thousand people were killed because a couple dozen weren’t screened. Former President Kalam boards an aircraft bound FOR THE SAME CITY, in an aircraft larger than the ones that destroyed two skyscrapers, and complains three months after the fact that he was screened. And after all of this, they’re calling the Americans arrogant?

I’m sympathetic to the custom of your dignitaries not being wanded by security. Please be sympathetic to our custom of not allowing people to fly airplanes into our buildings.

If this dignitary is so great that he can’t be touched and can’t speak up when he is, then perhaps the Indian government should pony up for a private aircraft.

Until then, take your shoes off, empty your pockets, and hold your arms out.


What’s the big deal here?

Posted by Tennessee Bob | Report as abusive

Well it only depends on person to person ,,, Mr. Kalam ia a down to earth person, and is a soul conscious man,, It would not have irritated him at all when he was being frisked… and if all the indians are really worried about he being frisked then why dont we give him a private Aircraft ?? so that there is no problem at all??
Atleast we all can do that for our former President!!!

Posted by CPC | Report as abusive


Posted by BAL | Report as abusive

First of all kalam was bording a plane in a country of which he was president. Continental is an American airline company who is in India to make money through Indian passengers. India has its own rule about who are exempt from frisking. Contenental has no right to break that rule. They not only degraded a highest authority in India who is widely respected among all coummunities in India but were not applogetic despite breaking the Indian law. Continental should be kicked out of India if it fails to comply by Indian law and has no respect for Indian leaders in their own country. I personally will never ever fly in continental and I think thats what every Indian should do…just make sure you never ever fly with continental.

Posted by Ab | Report as abusive

if the question was should mrKalm be frisked with only yes or no annswer as in court the ans is no.Mr kalam is a great gentlemand didnot object at that time and didnot meke a fuss over it.only third paties do these thingslike calling for arrests of people who did itpoor staffwho did their part unnessarilygetting the “shoe thrown at them.Govt of indis list of people no to examined is prewtty long.impractical will get into future problems.i wwould like some one to explin to me what all the other countries rules regadinfg vvip person.I am sure many of the people mentioned in some letters like clinton or big cabinet ministors or members of congrss etc etc had gone tothrough metal detectors some time or most of the time. govt should have smaller list of people for vvip personand the airlines could have been informed ahed of time his arrival.If airlines still insist on frisking him that is another problemIn India every tom dick and harry wants tobe in non friskable list. the list probably get bigger and biggerwherre is the end if every countrydoes the same as to their vvip peson list thereis going tobe no end,the ex president was very grcious in submitting to this . the air line HAS apolagised.Of course they have to justify their conduct.Let govt of india do some thing about it . if the airlinesrefuse let vvip take another air line. My last question is what is the rule for some one like kalam or like former president clinton who is trvelling in usa does he or she walk throgh metal detector take his shoes off not carry sharp objects emties his pocket etc. plese some one enlighten me or others


A quick Google search shows that Al Gore has been frisked twice. Stop making this a color issue.

Posted by Sam Ray | Report as abusive

No, he should absolutely not be frisked or hindered in any way. Even ambassadors I believe go unhindered!!

The Indian govt should lodge proper complaints with the US government. Typically, it will be ignored.

If it is indeed ignored, no apology and correction within 48 hrs, NOBODY should fly on the Continental Airlines. Few months of empty flights will hit the pocket book and correct the brazen impudence of the CA management and executives.

These American companies mistreat other countries. I believe Union Carbide only paid peanuts for the Bhopal disaster(s). How many lives and generations have been destroyed by the American attitude.

Posted by Roger | Report as abusive

Give this airline its dues.
Don’t fly with Continental. Teach them a lesson.

Posted by Rahul | Report as abusive

he is no better than me, if i get frisked so does he.


stop flying continental airlines that is how we show our respect to former president and a great scientist, and air france for stranding indians for 28 hours in paris Jai Hind

Posted by Rakesh | Report as abusive

India should be leading the world and not lagging it. Each and every person need to be frisked before flight. However if the security recognize a person or are told that he is ex-president he can be minimally frisked and they should focus their attention more on suspicious characters.


We cannot have double standards concerning security. If the security feels a person must be frisked, his word should be the law at that point. In fact, I am dissappointed that Kalam did not come out and say that the airlines was just doing their duty. Shows that the king vs commoner mentality is alive and well in India at all levels.

Posted by Raman | Report as abusive

It’s unfortunate that this happened. However, it seems Kalam did not resist being frisked and did not complain about it. This shows the former president still considers himself an ordinary Indian citizen, not one of our so-called VIPs who delay flights, threaten to get officials transferred and generally end up irritating other passengers.

During a train journey to Kerala several years ago, our co-passenger turned out to be a sitting Lok Sabha MP from Bihar. We found he had disembarked during the night, pocketing one of the towels provided to AC-tier passengers. The next morning the railway attendant came to collect blankets and towels, didn’t believe our version of the story and forced us to pay for the missing towel.

It wasn’t the money that bothered me, it was how that VIP got away with it. And how such VIPs continue to do as they wish even today.

Posted by Toe Knee | Report as abusive

All should be frisked. Just because you have darker skin should not make you exempt. Get over it

Posted by dave | Report as abusive

I am not an Indian National, but I am as mad as hell. I even can recognize Prez Kalam. That is total disrespect for a person of Pres Kalam’s stature. Heads should roll…and I am not sure how high up!

Mad as hell..


This one for Mr. Dirk, who posted his comment on July 24th, 2009 12:02 pm GMT:

Dear Dirk… you mentioned that in wake of NY skyscrapers (which indeed were the great pride of all Americans) tragedy due to airlines security lapse, all passengers should be frisked irresp. of stature and post… then plz answer this: Our Indian parliament (all Indians pride) was attacked by same anti-peace group who hit NY towers in same year 2001, so should we frisk all American dignitaries before allowing them to enter into our Parliament premises??? Just imagine how reaction would have been when Hillary Clinton (who recently visited India around same time as this incident) been security-screened! So, plz plz don’t quote and relate such high “sensitive” and “emotional” incidents of NY to this mishap. Even though I.m of full support that ALL should be screened and checked, but plz get UN approval and make it universal-law. Thank You

Posted by Sumeet Jain | Report as abusive

Well at least some one somewhere is following the laws of their land. Indian laws cease to be effective once you leave the terminal, and the US laws come into play. Cynthia was being conscientious. The fault is entirely of the Indian authorities who should have sorted out the issue and the confusion which was waiting to happen.

India has the right that its ex-head of state should be allowed his dignity but it is Indian government rather than a US airline which needs to be solicitous about that.

Posted by indian-to-the-roots | Report as abusive

I do not think there is much room for a debate here. If we respect US Dignitaries, they ought to respect our’s. Let them get this straight..the sooner the better!
I agree with Sumeet here. We had a similar (or even more terrific) attack on Taj Hotel in Mumbai where Hillary Clinton stayed a week back, so does that mean we start frisking her. Had you liked her getting frisked by hotel officials all the time on way to her suite?

Again, I’m in strong favour of making security checks more stringent for the safety of all. So, lets accept and make this law universal for all VIPs and VVIPs or forget it.

Posted by Anmol | Report as abusive

I am surprised that the Protocol Officials accompanying Dr. Abdul Kalam had not briefed airline staff suitably. No airline operating in another country can ignore the official exemptions applied in that country.I believe each and every nation has similar exemptions.
The airline staff have acted out of ignorance and overzealousness, and discretion should have been exercised and the ex-President and Head of State should not have been subjected to frisking – unless there were specific grounds for suspecting him. I believe that at times, certain people act dumbly and routinely out of sheer ignorance and lack of judgement. The Airline should have apologised promptly and graciously!

Posted by L. Swain | Report as abusive

It’ s A shame for our nation.

Posted by G M Bahuguna | Report as abusive

Ye koi acchi baat nahin hai…

Posted by Atal Bhaisaab | Report as abusive

Clearly, Kalam has no style. Instead of just letting them get away with it and just pouting about it, he should do what this one North American guy did when United Airlines broke his guitar when he flew with them recently. He’s written a song about it and posted it on youtube. It’s quite good, has a lot of hits and is making United look bad. zo
Yes – it’s not racial – American run airlines treat everyone terrible.

Posted by Richard Moorman | Report as abusive

Yes it was a breach of protocol and the airlines proved it by offering an apology later. Dr. Kalam is not only the former President of India but a evry renowned scientist and intellectuals of our country.
@ Raman, if you cant trust your own president for security then u have no right to live on this land. It is a total breach of protocol, i’m sure george bush or even musharaf for that matter go thru the security check. this was an utterly disgusting incident.

Posted by r | Report as abusive

What does Dr. Kalam’s cat eat? Friskies

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

The word “frisking” has mildly violent connotations, and should not be used in this context. When a person goes to the doctor to get an EKG done, shirt and shoes come off, and the doctor sticks elctrodes all over, but the doctor hasn’t “frisked” that person, its just part of the process.

I have the highest regard for Dr. Kalam. In this case, however – can the Indian governent gaurantee the safety of his baggage and belongings through the entire chain of custody? The IGI airport has literally no securtity uptil checkin (anyone with a printout of an e-ticket can get in). If the terrorists get a hold of this VIP list, all VIPs can be easy targets in the Indian airports. All the terrorists have to do is slip in an explosive device or a cellphone bomb into the carry-on luggage or even checked luggage of these VIPs, KNOWING that they will skip security. VIPs are humans too – they take off their coat when it gets hot and hang it on the back of the seat while in the waiting area, they go to the bathromm and can’t always keep a wathful eye on all their belongings.

On a lighter (pun) note – do all VIPs understand the rules of flying? What if a VIP who smokes has a lighter or matches in the checked luggage. The security procedures take care of all these inadvertant mistakes – are we to trust all VIPs with the safety of perhaps 300 passengers in a 777?

The diginity of VIPs is not more fragile than the dignity of the common passenger – and I’m happy Dr. Kalam seems to agree. We can have a parallel process for VIPs. But then we also need to have a VIP dignity-protecting EKG m/c that can take readings w/o frisking.

Posted by East Coast Indian | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see