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Old Dec 21st, 2004, 09:00 AM   #1
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British Theatre ends play after Sikh protest

I think this is an issue which blurs the boundries between liberal and conservative, a difficult issue...for me this is a depressing event, a worrying precedent. As a non-religious person I want to feel free to criticise religions as and when I chose and whatever the religion its wrong that I not be allowed to do so.

The Sikh community had a perfect right to protest the play, but to get their way through threats and intimidation is unacceptable.

The people putting on the play had made certain changes to it, and had even distributed statments from the Sikh community leaders to all audience members.

A BBC report on the events for those who don't know...


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A play which led to violent protests among the Sikh community in Birmingham has had its run cancelled by the city's Repertory Theatre.


The theatre said it had refused to censor the work and was abandoning it purely on health and safety grounds.

Three police officers were hurt during clashes after 400 demonstrators gathered outside on Saturday.

Protesters said Behzti, which depicts sex abuse and murder in a temple, portrayed the Sikh faith negatively. The theatre said the "ugly" violence had caused free speech to be curbed.

Stuart Rogers, the executive director of the Rep, told a press conference that the decision had been taken after discussions with police and Sikh community leaders on Monday morning.


Mr Rogers said: "The theatre vigorously defends its right to produce Behzti and other similar high-quality plays that deal with contemporary issues in a multicultural society.

"We sincerely hope that the play will be produced again as we are certain that it is a work that should be seen and discussed.

"It remains a matter of great concern to us that illegal acts of violence can cause the cancellation of a lawful artistic work."

A spokesman for the Sikh community in Birmingham, Councillor Chaman Lal, predicted there would have been larger protests had the play's run continued.

He said: "The theatre has made the right decision in response to a peaceful protest.

"There are no winners or losers - common sense has prevailed."

Decision 'unacceptable'

Mohan Singh, from the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in south Birmingham, also welcomed the decision, but said it had come a week too late.

"Free speech can go so far. Maybe 5,000 people would have seen this play over the run," he said.

"Are you going to upset 600,000 thousands Sikhs in Britain and maybe 20 million outside the UK for that?" But Ursula Owen, editor-in-chief of pro-free speech group Index on Censorship, said: "This decision is absolutely unacceptable. I am shocked."

Earlier, the theatre said short of "blatant censorship" and cancelling the production, it could not have done more to appease the Sikh community.


Behzti, which translates as "dishonour", was written by a young female Sikh, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatt, and was said to have been inoffensive to many younger Sikhs.

However, religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, had urged a boycott of the play.

Three people were arrested in connection with Saturday's demonstration.

The theatre said some protesters managed to get backstage, where they smashed equipment and destroyed a foyer door. Mr Rogers added that the Rep's other production, The Witches, would be staged as usual.
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Old Dec 21st, 2004, 03:58 PM   #2
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what was so unnacceptable to the religious leaders? what exactly was the plot about?
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Old Dec 21st, 2004, 04:03 PM   #3
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Pffft. The show MUST go on!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 03:09 AM   #4
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The creators of the play, and the theatre, have a right to stage it. The Sikh community has a right to all PEACEFUL means of protest. This includes organizing financial boycotts of the theatre, financial boycotts of advertisers, picketing the theatre, and attempting to have the play shut down by using the courts.

Physicaly assaulting actors, or smashing equipment, are criminal actions, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If the play actively incites violence, I believe under British law it could be shut down.

I don't care for white supremacists. As long as they don't attempt to get people to use violence against others, I defend their right to speak. As soon as it becomes okay to deny speech rights to any group, I'm quite sure MY group will be denied rights next.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 09:16 AM   #5
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For me its an issue I think has to be dealt with in a case by case basis...

I think its significant that the writer in this case is herself a Sikh, and that she has has some measure of support even in the Sikh community.

She has recieved death threats and is in hiding.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 10:27 AM   #6
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Religion just causes problems and I think they should have kept the play on
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Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 01:23 PM   #7
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Religion.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 01:55 PM   #8
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well i could understand if Britain was a sikh country. then they could chose to ban it. as this is not they should have no say over what happens in british theatre. yes the western culture is offensive to many eastern religions...so why come and live here? by all means they can protest, they have the right to free speech in a democracy...but where is the free speech of the plays producers and the many people who wouldnt have been offended by the play? this is what pisses me off about britain......its trying so hard to be pc and not offend people here of religous/ethnic minorities that it ends up offending those that are not in the minority. this is the perfect example of multiculturalism doesnt work. We are expected to tolerate other cultures in britain but those people from other cultures come here and dont even tolerate the culture of the people they have chosen to live with. British culture will die out at this rate as it offends too many people living here this stuff is all just proof to me that being British isnt about your passport or where you are born, its about what unites you with the rest of your country people. and i know im probably going to be branded a racist for saying this (even tho people who know me know im not) but i dont see multiculturalism as uniting people within a country i see it only dividing people. sadly
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Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 02:44 PM   #9
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I don't agree...my problems is not merely with the Sikhs in this case, but with strong relgious opinion as a whole. I would feel the same if the incident involved a play which focused on Christianity.

Im not sure what the "British culture" you speak of, is...for instance, its true that most Brits tick the box marked Christian but also true that church attendence here is tiny comapred to many countries. After causing centuries of trouble (Not to mention civil war) religion in mainland Britain today has lost a lot of its importance, its power to cause conflict. The religious strife which still tears apart Northern Ireland is largely alien to mainland Brits (beyond Glasgow). We have become increasingly secular, but also relaxed about matters religious. For me thats a good thing. I don't think Christmas here is the battleground it is becoming in America. I don't think it needs to be.

We do need, in an increasinlgy diverse culture, to shape a modern, outlooking sense of what it mean to be British and indeed in my case English. We can't leave such territory to the far-right and their mindless drivel.
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