Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shah Rukh Khan Detained in US – Things to Understand

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Detaining Shah Rukh Khan for two hours in US airports have become big news in India. In fact whenever an Indian celebrity is detained for questioning in US a big ruckus breaks out in Indian media. Indian Government on all such occasion will express their anguish by letting US authorities know by summoning an US official and US on its part will issue an apology. Indian government has done its part by getting an US apology and media has done its part by sensationalizing this issue.
So has the media or government thought of this one – if celebrities are detained like this what are the hardships an ordinary man from India or Pakistan or Middle East goes through especially Muslims in US airports and during visa interview? I am sure most of us – “the brown skinned Asians”  (especially young males) who don’t have an US passport and travelled to US after 9/11 will have some story to tell about the discrimination you faced in US airport, especially when you come back after a visit to your home country.
This happened to my friend and this is the extreme I have seen happening to someone whom I know. This friend who studied in my same school for Masters is from Bangladesh and came to US with a green card. But the problem was that his name exactly matches with some name black listed by US immigration as terrorist. So he could never check in online even for local flights as his name was black listed. Any time he flies (even for local flights) he will be detained and questioned for hours before he is allowed to fly. The worst nightmare waits for him when he comes back from Bangladesh. Every time he came back from Bangladesh, he was detained at the port of entry (entry point to USA) and he needs to answer in detail what he did, where all he went in Bangladesh in detail when he was away from US. So many detentions and now my friend is used to it, even though every time this happens he is very frustrated.
What I understood from my Bangladeshi friend is that if you name matches with a terrorist name in US list, you will be detained for detailed questioning and then only allowed to fly. Some fan of Shah Rukh Khan may have named his son SRK and later he may have come up in the terrorist list of US Immigration and that may be the reason SRK is detained over and over again.
I always use to tell these days – America is a country with no discrimination of any kind once your immigration process is over but there is blatant discrimination based on race and religion in airports and embassies. US government may deny it but this is a fact after 9/11. I know lot of Muslim friends from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and other Middle East countries who were denied US visa or visa process getting longer (due to process like background check etc) or questioned for hours together on arrival at Port of Entry – just because they have a Muslim Name.
The Indian media and government should put pressure on US Government to stop this racial profiling happening in embassy and Port of Entry rather than making a hue and cry when some celebrity is detained. Remember when one Shah Rukh Khan is detained for two hours in an US airport, thousands of ordinary people from India, Pakistan and Middle East also are detained just because – they have a name that match a terrorist; they have a “brown skin”; they look like a Muslim; they have a Muslim name; This needs to be changed or otherwise we will continue hearing stories of detention of people in US airports. I hope US authorities will make appropriate changes in their screening system so that no innocent visitor has to go through this ordeal.
If you have any personal experience in US consulate or at the Port of Entry in US where you feel you were discriminated please do share here.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mahindra Rise Contest - Vote for “Make A Difference” (MAD)

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Mahindra’s Spark the Rise is a platform to help put ideas into action to drive positive change in India.  The idea that wins gets a grant of 40 lakhs Indian rupee and three runner-ups gets a grant of 20 lakhs each. The grand winner is decided by online vote (30% of weightage) and jury (70% of weightage). Make A Difference (MAD) is one of the 18 teams in the grant finale and it requires you vote to win this grant and  really make a difference in  lives of thousands of children in India. 
MAD is a national youth network that empowers underprivileged kids with English education. MAD is in more than 14 cities across the country and is planning to expand to more than 30 cities by the end of year 2013. Here is what MAD does.
You need to follow these 8 very simple steps given below to vote for MAD in this contest. 
  1. Go the website of Mahindra Spark (Here is the link)
  2. Click on the “Vote Finalist” button on the top left corner
  3. A pop-up box will come up asking you to “Sign Up” or “Login And Vote Now”. Click on “Login and Vote Now” Button.
  4. In the next window click on “Connect with Facebook” (Don’t worry, the website don’t hack your user id or password nor it will spam your Facebook page)
  5. Login using your Facebook Page
  6. Once you logged in using your Facebook Page it takes you to a window “Register your phone number” (only Indian numbers please) that will work as your One Time Password (OTP). Again Mahindra promises not to solicit you spam SMSes or calls.
  7. Click on “Confirm OTP”. You will get a SMS in your phone with the pass code.
  8. Enter that password into the next window, you cast your vote and you are done. 
Thank You for your vote to “Make a Difference” in lives of thousands of underprivileged kids.
To know more about Mahindra Rise Contest please watch the video

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Friday, April 06, 2012

Thanks to my Stay in US, A Good Lesson Learnt

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The other day when I was talking about a list of students selected for a particular award to someone from Kerala and he immediately asked me
Friend (F): So how many are “our” students? (Stressing the word “OUR”)

Me: What do you mean by “our”?
F: I mean students from Kerala
Me: I went through the entire list but never looked that list from that angle. So I am not sure how many students are there from Kerala.
F: That is strange
That may be strange to my friend, but not for me. This conversation reverberated in my mind for some time. Thinking about this conversation, it took me back to my old days when I use to see each and every thing from “Kerala angle”. This was especially true when I was working as a software engineer in Chennai soon after my bachelors in engineering. In Chennai I was very particular that I could eat only Kerala food, I made it a point that I had only Keralite friends and I stayed with people from Kerala. I was viewing everything from “Kerala” and “Malayalam” and everything related to that was good and others were bad
When I went to the US, initially whenever I talked to my friends from other states I was sure to talk about Kerala and Kerala only. Some of my close friends from other states even used to make fun of me (I am sure they are reading this now). Slowly I started mingling with a lot people from other states in India and countries. I had friends from almost all states in India, South America, Europe, South Asia and Australia while doing my MS and PhD. Frequent interaction with them made me realize the “hollowness” of my thought process. I started seeing everyone as same. I have changed to such an extent that after coming back to India and settling in Tamil Nadu, I never ever felt that I was working in a state other than Kerala.
After joining VIT University, there were times when I never realize that a student I am talking to is from Kerala until he/she talks to me in Malayalam. This may have happened after talking to them for over six months. If I joined here soon after my Bachelors, the first thing I could have asked is if he/she is from Kerala before I even start a conversation. I feel if I hadn’t gone to US and hadn’t met so many people from so many different states and countries, I might still have been the old narrow minded guy, who knows!

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