An Insider’s View of Behzti


by Rohin
26th January, 2006 at 3:02 pm    

First off, Happy Republic Day to the Indians among us.

The Behzti controversy was a hot topic within and outside the British Asian community in late 2004. Now one of the actors has penned his thoughts in Catalyst Magazine about what being in the play was like and how the protests affected him (thanks, Raz).

“One of the central objections voiced by their representatives, all men, was that it was ‘unacceptable’ to set the play in a gurudwara . However, other (less publicised) complaints were also made that it was ‘unacceptable and insulting to all Sikhs to have a black man kissing a Sikh woman’ or ‘for a Sikh to be shown as a homosexual’.” [Link]

It’s a very interesting read and not too long. Now that Behzti is more than a year ago, has the Sikh community changed? I address the question to our Sikh readers as I really don’t know. Jay Singh previously wrote about a rise in mob law amongst young Sikh men, but I wonder if there have been any positives to take out of the whole affair?


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  1. Thinking Aloud

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  1. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 3:41 pm  

    I don’t want to get dragged into another protracted argument about this matter considering the amount of time that has passed, but here are a few thoughts:

    Madhav Sharma is lying about a number of matters in the interview he has given:

    1. The entire “mob” did not break into the theatre. There were a handful of people near the front who caused some trouble, but the vast majority behind them were certainly not involved in any kind of “riot”.

    2. Orange turbans are not a symbol of a “separate nation for Sikhs”.

    3. It is factually incorrect to state that “almost all of the protesters were men” — there were a substantial number of women present too.

    4. The actor concerned is claiming to be quoting various people he spoke to, but this is purely heresay, whether he is talking about alleged intimidatory comments being made or a woman claiming that the play is “close to the truth” (despite the fact that the playright herself admitted that the story was purely fictional and not based on any real-life events).

    5. The tone of the article is quite blatantly manipulative.

    I can’t speak for any other Sikhs, but a) I don’t think that the portrayal of the Sikh female character kissing a black man is grounds for protest, and b) neither is the supposedly homosexual Sikh character, and c) the death threats etc made against the playwright were completely unacceptable.

    However, the major bones of contention were a) the publicity blurb for the play claimed that it was about “what REALLY goes in inside a Sikh temple” (which was false, again as the playwright herself later admitted), b) the fact that it showed a Sikh priest swearing and committing rape, inside a gurdwara, while real Sikh scriptures were simultaneously being sung in the background.

    As far as I’m concerned the whole thing was a publicity stunt that backfired badly. And please note that, with the exception of the playwright (who is not a strict Sikh in terms of her practice of the faith), absolutely none of the cast or crew were Sikh themselves. People do sometimes have their own axes to grind.

    If you have (for example) a production team and cast predominantly from a Christian and Jewish background, with a disgruntled lapsed Muslim playwright, who create a play claiming “What REALLY goes on inside a mosque “, with homosexual, foul-mouthed, religiously-hypocritical rapist imams (played by a Christian actor with a fake beard etc)…….Well, imagine that scenario, and you’ll begin to understand exactly why Behzti was so offensive.

  2. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 3:47 pm  

    And please note that, with the exception of the playwright (who is not a strict Sikh in terms of her practice of the faith)

    I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Can only devout people, as sanctioned by other authorities, make plays about their religion?

    Secondly, I don’t see the need to compare with other religions. Muslim organisations complain these days when a chicken crosses the road, that doesn’t mean Sikh organisations should follow that road of intolerance.

    This is exactly the mentality of competing for victim status that I wrote about previously.
    http://www.asiansinmedia.org/news/article.php/television/808

    As for the article – yes, quite biased. On that I have to agree with. But some of the comments are not surprising. I was the only outsider at a meeting between Gurudwara heads in London, and the crap that some of them were coming out with….

  3. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 4:23 pm  

    The Sikh community has not changed. The Sikh community is as it always has been – a strong, productive and vibrant people contributing to British society.

    The Sikh community is not some amorphous blob or mass that can be spoken to or spoken for. This is the mistake that all people made. From self righteous community ‘representatives’ to pompous actors.

  4. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 4:42 pm  

    I have read the play with around a hundred Sikh women and teenage girls in seminar in the months after the affair took off – in formal and at informal sessions. I deliberately read it only with females, because of the suggestion that Gurpreet Bhatti’s play was speaking for Sikh woman.

    Not a single person had a good thing to say about it. These are my friends, friends of friends, cousins, cousins best friends, students, lawyers, mothers, feminists. They pointed out several fallacies contained within the play – most notably that menstruating women are not permitted to enter a Gurdwara. Not only is this false, it makes you wonder how anyone who is Sikh could make that mistake – there are no taboos on menstruation in Sikhism. Who was she inventing taboos for? It boils down to this lie telling falsehoods and yet claiming to tell a truth.

    It was an arcehtypal case of a coon show written to titillate middle class white people. That’s fine – do that. But why bait Sikh leaders by showing it to them in the first place? What were they trying to prove? What were they trying to do?

    Strangely enough, in the media, this viewpoint has never been articulated – we have never seen Sikh women being interviewed or asked specifically what they think about the play. To get an idea, listen to Amardeep Bassey’s female friends discuss it in the article I wrote linked to above.

    You can stand up for freedom of speech and all that, but dont slander Sikhs and Sikh women in order to do that – Madhav Sharma and anyone else interested should organise a reading of the play in closed room with a couple of dozen Sikh girls and women invited as a random cross section – not religious ones, I am talking about educated, funky, modern women, feminists, professionals, students from Birmingham or Southall. Carry out the reading in a closed room, dont advertise it, then listen to what these women say, and what they think about white men and people like Madhave Sharma speaking on their behalf. They will be shocked and they will not enjoy the tongue roasting they get.

    All in all, a very ugly and squalid affair, between a handful of extremists on one side, and a bunch of idiots on the other. The common Sikh man and woman in England watches on in confusion, as usual, as hotheads spout their crap, and clueless people deign to speak about Sikhs and bigots in the arts community speak vulgar generalisations.

    A Plague on both their houses is the general attitude, I would say, especially amongst those Sikh women who have read the play.

  5. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 4:51 pm  

    The incident that compares to this is the 1989 banning of the play Perdition by Jim Allen in mid run. It was halted after representations by some members of the Jewish community who were offended by the assertion made in it as truth that Zionist leaders collaborated with Nazis.

    Amazingly, subsequently to that, suggestions were not made that ‘Jews’ were a threat to freedom of speech and all that other hysteria. People were able to contextualise the incident. A barrage of slander and marginalisation of ordinary British Jewish voices did not ensue, as happened in the aftermath of the BEhzti affair.

    As it stands, Birmingham Sikhs are more concerned with more pressing issues these days – like the fact that on the night of the Handsworth riots Sikh men and women were targetted en masse in the homes, on the street, in their shops and in their pubs by racists who happened to be black youths, and in the aftermath of that, a gurdwara was atatcked by a mob of black youths for half an hour whilst terrified women and children huddled inside and the police did not respond. None of this was reported in any of the coverage of the riots. Just another example of the marginalisation and ignorance of Sikhs despite their high profile culturally and economically, and something that this whole squalid affair has done nothing but exacerbate.

  6. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:02 pm  

    there are no taboos on menstruation in Sikhism

    Wrong – that was one of the main reasons articulated why women were not allowed to clean the inner sanctum of the Golden Temple, and also why there is continued debate about the issue.

    There are other taboos around this too, which are more due to cultural practices than anything contained within the SGGS. For example I’m pretty sure some Sikhs also say women should not visit the Gurudwara when menstruating, or cannot hold the palki when the SGGS is being “laid to rest” if menstruating.

  7. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:15 pm  

    Sunny – there are NO taboos on a Sikh women entering a gurdwara whilst menstruating simply because she is mentsruating! This is a complete fallacy and a lie. The thing about the cleaning of the sanctum of the Golden Temple is a freakish exception that proves the rule. The play asserts that this is the case, that women should not enter the gurdwara whilst menstruating.

    Read it in the context of the play – this is NOT a taboo or rule in Sikh life. So why invent it? This is bad faith. If you are going to turn the whole thing into a middle class luvvie Norman Tebbit cricket test about whether you defend freedom of speech then fine – do so – but be honest about what is being defended. A sixteen year old girl who read the play with me was perplexed at that scene – she was almost in tears of sadness and rage that this could be asserted as fact and not questioned. A fourteen year old girl wrote into the Independent at the time to point this out – a fourteen year old girl! This alone should make some people take notice – but you can always avoid this by slandering Sikhs generally, and ignoring Sikh women and girls who point this out.

    The ‘legitimacy’ of the play in the eyes of Madhav Sharma etc lies in its ‘telling the truth’ – when fourteen year old girls point out things like this, they must really feel humiliated.

    Remember, the context in which this assertion is made is that women are not permitted to enter the gurdwara in England, your common street corner gurdwara, do matha tekh, and carry out seva whilst mentsruating. One struggles to comprehend this slander – its audacity and nerve – it literally leaves you speechless.

    But if you assert this things become a little less clearer. Suddenly the play reads less like a teller of truth than a mendacious tale of invented taboos that piggy backs on ignorance and notions of what Sikhs are and believe – and suddenly the whole thing seems much much more squalid, even more squalid than it originally did.

  8. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:25 pm  

    Ultimately, you have to ignore and slander an awful lot of people who point out that the play was bogus, that the actions of the Birmingham Rep in showing it to the ‘representatives’ was ill conceived and arrogant (not to say stupid) in the first place – and you have to carry out a lot of libel and generalising of young British Sikhs and ignore the majority of British Sikh women who have read this play, in order to cast it in any kind of light as being a teller of truth. You also have to over look an awful lot of bigotry expressed and uncovered in the response to this by people in the theatrical community and wider society in order to maintain that stance. It is simple to do – Sikhs constitute less than 1% of the population of Britain – Sikhs are easy to trample over, marginalise and ignore. If it makes them feel better then good, have fun.

    But I cannot ignore what I know about this play and what Sikh women say and think of it. The mass of Sikhs were slandered and ignored and I say again as I said before – a plague on both their houses.

    Furthermore, if anyone thinks that this helped Sikh liberals I would like to ask them – please, write a play that really does satirise and highlight the iniquities of the Sikh establishment – but if even fourteen year old Sikh girls, 20 year old feminist Sikh women at Birmingham University, a 23 year old Sikh lawyer dating a Jewish man, in other words, the alleged audience for this play are screaming blue murder about the mendacity and stupidity of it, you have a big big problem.

  9. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:34 pm  

    I actually saw peoples faces collapse in disbelief as they read the play – saw their faces fall and their eyes glaze over in confusion as they read the play – it’s inacuracies, it’s fallacies, the false note of the dialogue – not just Sikh women but a Hindu Punjabi friend of mine who wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

    One more thing – the Birmingham Rep managment in their wisdom decided to show it to the ‘representatives’ on virtually the same week of the twentieth anniversary of the November 1984 pogroms that were commemorated everywhere in gurdwaras and in street demonstrations, candle light ceremonies across the country and especally in Brum. Would it ever be possible to be more insensitive? And then they were summoned, like children to a headmasters office, to be shown a really pathetic and cringeworthy piece of coon show art and treated as if it was telling some kind of ‘truth’ about ‘what goes on behind the doors of a gurdwara’ *nudge nudge – wink wink*

    I mean, seriously, what a bunch of half wits.

  10. Kay — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:38 pm  

    The play seemed to imply that sikh women are passive. No we’re definetly not!

    Jay, with regards to your comment, I agree with Sunny that when menstruating we’re not allowed to hold the paalkhi. As sunny pointed out that’s cultural.

    I certainly feel that this play was the playwrites expression of how she interprets religion. Perhaps, she didn’t even once consider the consequences that such a play would have on the sikh community.

    As I haven’t seen the play I can only form my own judgment but must say that such an apathetic portrayal of british sikhs is in somewhat ways harmful to the community.

  11. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:52 pm  

    Kay

    The play doesnt say that – the play asserts that Sikh women ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER the gurdwara whilst menstruating. This is a mendacity – there is no other word for it. Kay, my cousins and aunties all read paath from Guru Granth Sahib whilst menstruating. This play says Sikhi is some kind of cave man religion in which women who are menstruating cannot do that, cannot do maatha tekh, and cannot do seva whilst on their period.

    Why?

  12. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:54 pm  

    Jay – calling it a freakish exception to the rule is underplaying the issue grossly. We are only talking about the biggest Sikh organisation looking after the holiest of Sikh shrines.

    If they hold a taboo over something, you can bet your bottom dollar there are deep seated issues over Sikh women menstruating. Just because some young girls over here don’t know anything about the issue, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    And frankly, I don’t expect a 14 yr old girl to understand what the play is about.

    I’m not defending the B’ham Rep here, and I don’t really care if someone does not get the play. Those are side issues.

    There were two main objections. 1) It was set in a Gurudwara. 2) They had hymns being played in the background while the rape was taking place.

    While I agreed the points that Jai made about the aticle, I don’t exactly get what “fallacies” that your own focus group turned up and could not comprehend. The menstruation issue exists, and believe me I’ve heard it more than once since I have a family full of Sikh women.

  13. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:58 pm  

    I still defend the right of the play to be staged – but I think people should be honest about what it is and not try to paint it as some kind of gospel come to light up our lives – this premise might cause white liberal chests to swell with pride at their ability to ‘civilise the natives’ – but I just cannot stop thinking of that 14 year old girl who wrote to the Independent, especially when people decide to slander Sikhs as a whole and yet still claim to be speaking ‘for’ 14 year old Sikh girls.

    Bottom line is, dont think because liberal Sikhs disagree with the Sikh establishment that they saw this as play some kind of truth telling exercise – the truth is we all got smacked in the mouth in the aftermath – and for that reason we say – a plague on you both.

  14. Kay — on 26th January, 2006 at 5:59 pm  

    Hunny
    As I said its cultural.

    Hey matey I’m not that we’re not allowed to enter. NO ONe said that we cant do maatha (its maahtha) tekh.
    Ofcourse we do seva.
    And no its not a ‘cave man religion’, that’s damn right intolerance.
    By no means am I condeming the play, but its a free country and she has a right to her say, that doesnt mean that i agree with the play

  15. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:06 pm  

    Kay

    We are in agreement! Sorry if it seemed I was addressing my terms to you.

    But this is actually what the play asserts. That is why it is all screwed up.

    And if a theatre is going to put something like that on as entertainment – for goodness sake dont show it to a bunch of ‘elders’ as if they are schoolchildren being told off by by the Sahib. I cannot believe the stupidity of the managment of the Birmingham Rep in the first place.

    There is just too much dissonance between the rhetoric of the play and those claims made for it, and the reality of the response of Sikh girls and women to it, and the chest thumping of those who are unwilling to even look at it closely, or examine the effect the whole affair had on young British Sikhs as a whole, and some of the vulgar ignorance that the whole situation turfed up about young British Sikhs. What a squalid affair. The very people it was supposed to be speaking for and representing, were marginalised.

  16. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:12 pm  

    =>”I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Can only devout people, as sanctioned by other authorities, make plays about their religion?”

    That wasn’t what I was implying. My point was that the writer has been repeatedly held up to be a “devout Sikh”, when she certainly isn’t (I’m not anywhere near as pious as ideally I should be either — but then I don’t claim to be).

    If this play had been made predominantly by Sikhs themselves, as an honest piece of self-reflection to address any relevant negative issues that may exist within certain quarters of the Sikh community (either socially or religiously), then that would have been an entirely different matter and would certainly have had greater credibility in terms of people claiming “But they’re Sikh themselves, of course they can say all this from personal experience”. However, this was the not the case here — far from it, in fact, and — as I mentioned in my earlier post — the actual composition of the cast and crew regarding their backgrounds sets off a number of alarm bells in my view. Again, people often have their own underlying agendas to push.

    =>”Secondly, I don’t see the need to compare with other religions. Muslim organisations complain these days when a chicken crosses the road, that doesn’t mean Sikh organisations should follow that road of intolerance.”

    Again, that was not my point. I made the analogy for the benefit of people from a non-Sikh background in order to help them understand the context of why this was offensive to so many Sikhs.

    There is already enough misrepresentation and misinformation (a more paranoid person would say “propaganda”) about Sikhs and Sikhism occurring within some sections of the Indian media, ie. the satellite/cable channels, especially the Star Plus channel (a programme called “Kesar” is a particularly blatant repeat offender); we definitely don’t want that kind of thing occurring over here in the UK too.

    With regards to the whole menstruation question, as Jay has said, this is more of a cultural thing (possibly another relic from the Hindu ancestry of many of the people concerned, like the caste system) and has absolutely no basis within Sikhism. Plus, “the biggest Sikh organisation looking after the holiest of Sikh shrines” is not supposed to be the ultimate authority on such matters — the Sikh scriptures and the Sarbat Khalsa (ie. the global Sikh community) are.

  17. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:13 pm  

    Sunny

    The play is NOT about the debate taking place on allowing or not allowing women to carry out seva in the Golden Temple sanctum.

    The play is very specific.

    It asserts women who are menstruating are not permitted to enter the gurdwara in England.

    That a menstruating woman is not allowed to ENTER
    a gurdwara.

    It almost leave you speechless – but more dazed with confusin as to how and why this could be asserted. It is a falsehood. What kind of cave man taboo is being ascribed to Sikh practice here?

    That was what the 14 year old girl was commenting on.

  18. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:21 pm  

    Jai

    Irrespective of what you have pointed out, there is no taboo against menstruation that prevents Sikh women from entering a gurdwara in Birmingham, London, Leicester or Leeds and carrying out seva or worshipping.

    But this is what the play asserts.

    It is set in a British gurdwara, and it asserts this. Whatever the roots of it may be, whatever you can say about Sikhs, whatever criticism you can make of how we conduct our lives and our selves, one thing we do not hold is a taboo that menstruation renders a woman unclean and thus prevents her from entering the gurdwara and worshipping and doing seva. That a menstruating woman is not allowed to enter a gurdwara. That is simply not even on the radar of Sikh practice. It becomes a perversion of the play, not telling the truth. And yet it is claimed that this is a play that tells the truth. In order to maintain this strange fiction, you have to slander and marginalise those very people who claim to being spoken for.

  19. Siddharth — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:22 pm  

    There is the trendy opinion proffered by the ART ESTABLISHMENT that art can only be worthwhile or have something to say if it shocks the public or its target audience. Now shock has its value. It produces an impulse that should, in the best art, stimulate questions and discussion about the ideas it creates for the audience. But if art goes to the extreme of ONLY shocking people and little else, or if its only message is to shock the audience to the extent of insulting them and their sensibilities, then that “art” has failed. Or to be precise, it has failed the audience. Not the other way round. Its not the public who are philistines for rejecting it. Rather, the artist’s work has bombed. And this, to my mind, is the sign of an inferior work of art. Inevitably it will be called a work “ahead of its time” but only by proponents who have vested interests.

    But lets not fool ourselves.

  20. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:31 pm  

    Jay,

    I was actually agreeing with you — I’m a Sikh myself, remember ;)

    Anyway, I don’t think the fabricated “menstruation taboo” was the only major fallacy — it was the whole idea that Sikh granthis are foul-mouthed bisexual rapists. The assertion doesn’t just misrepresent what the average granthi is like, it also creates a very dangerous image of gurdwaras being unsafe places of worship for women.

    It was as though the writer and the rest of her team decided to sit down and come up with the most inaccurate, disgusting, slanderous, grossly offensive depiction of granthis and gurdwaras that their sordid minds could think of. Quite an imagination, I must say, but it also raises some disturbing questions about the mental state of the people behind the play.

  21. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:31 pm  

    Jay – In parts of Hinduism, women are not allowed to enter the mandir if they are menstruating. As you may imagine, that cultural practice has seeped into the minds of many Sikhs.

    Funnily enough, when I read the reactions (mostly positive) from Indian punjabi women writers to the play, no one even raised the point about menstruating, which gives rise to the assumption that just because a 14 yr old girl finds it odd, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

    I don’t think the play “spoke” for anyone, or made any statements as to what the Sikh religion was about or not. These are interpretations and these are observations. It’s a play, not a religious text in itself. I think you’re reading too much into it.

  22. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:36 pm  

    Siddhartha

    Shockingly bad art is especially shocking.

    The trouble is, even when taken on its own terms, the play does not stand up. The play should never have been ended, but we can examine what happened, and we can assert that the Birmingham Rep management were silly (and arrogant) for showing it to the ‘elders’ in the first place.

    And a year later we can examine the play itself and see whether it stands up or not, and unfortunately, it does not stand up, it droops.

    ++++

    The play would have been a success as a work of art or social statement on its own terms if liberal Sikhs could be enthusiastic about it – but not even they can be – and I have read it through with around a hundred Sikh teenage girls and women – and I deliberately did not include any men in my sample, and I went out of my way to speak to non-orthodox, liberal Sikh women.

  23. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:40 pm  

    Sunny

    Have you ever in your life heard of any Sikh woman or girl not being allowed to enter a gurdwara in Britain to worship because she was on her period?

    Forget Hinduism – this is about Sikh practice in Britain.

    For a play that speaks in terms of truth and veracity it is these are the things that matter – these are the claims being made for it.

  24. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:42 pm  

    Correction to my last post to Siddhartha regarding liberal Sikhs enthusiasm for the play – i can only speak for myself and those I know, not all liberal Sikhs, so I apologise for that innacuracy.

  25. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:42 pm  

    Ok, initially I thought this was going to be a sane discussion on the play, not its just turned into another bout of hysterics.

    Jai:

    My point was that the writer has been repeatedly held up to be a “devout Sikh”
    Where was she held up as such?

    I made the analogy for the benefit of people from a non-Sikh background in order to help them understand the context of why this was offensive to so many Sikhs.

    There is no analogy, all you said was “see, Hindus and Muslims get annoyed, why can’t we?” in essence. Again, I don’t see that as relevant. There should be competition to be tolerant, not competition to get offended.

    Plus, “the biggest Sikh organisation looking after the holiest of Sikh shrines” is not supposed to be the ultimate authority on such matters — the Sikh scriptures and the Sarbat Khalsa (ie. the global Sikh community) are.
    That still does not make the example exceptional. It is in fact central to Sikh authority and organisations. If the highest administrative authority at the most revered of Sikh shrines follows an outdated cultural practice, as I said, you can bet plenty of others do to. So my point still stands.

    Jay Singh:
    it was the whole idea that Sikh granthis are foul-mouthed bisexual rapists.
    Really? There was only one. How you saw that as a commentary on all granthis is beyond me.

    for goodness sake dont show it to a bunch of ‘elders’ as if they are schoolchildren being told off by by the Sahib
    It was meant to be shown to get their “approval” so to speak, as this has happened before. There have been previous instances of community based plays with “elders” being invited to get their opinions on plays. I hope the Rep and other theatre establishments drop such stupid practices from now on. There is no need to ask for anyone’s approval IMO.

    It was as though the writer and the rest of her team decided to sit down and come up with the most inaccurate, disgusting, slanderous, grossly offensive depiction of granthis and gurdwaras that their sordid minds could think of.

    Sheesh. Did you actually watch or read the damn thing, or again is this based on hearsay?

  26. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:46 pm  

    Jai

    I disagree with you about the thing about the granthi. That is a matter of fiction – it could happen. It is not outside the realms of possibility, although it is sensationalistic and unrealistic, as it the whole depiction of the gurdwara. The menstruation mendacity is another thing altogether – it is an invention of a taboo and a falsehood designed for what reason I do not know, but I have my suspicions. The assertion that a menstruating woman cannot enter a gurdwara in Britain is a plain and simple lie – it is bad faith to assert that.

  27. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:48 pm  

    Sunny

    The last words you directed to me were not in response to words I said – Jai said them

  28. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:49 pm  

    Sunny

    Yes – as I said I read it numerous times.

  29. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:51 pm  

    Sunny

    I dont actually see any hysterics here, but hey, what do I know? :-)

  30. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:55 pm  

    Have you ever in your life heard of any Sikh woman or girl not being allowed to enter a gurdwara in Britain to worship because she was on her period?

    No one is going to conduct an inspection on the girl are they? What I have heard is girls being “discouraged” to go. In India things are different, so to assume this is outside the realms of possibility is naive.

    That is a matter of fiction – it could happen. It is not outside the realms of possibility, although it is sensationalistic and unrealistic,

    Rubbish – this has happened in the UK, repeatedly, and in India. In fact Mohan Singh, on of the so-called Gurudwara reps was on Five Live when a Sikh guy called up and said he’d personally heard of loads of such stories in India (while he’d lived there) and Mohan Singh went into outright denial rape could ever happen in a Gurudwara and accused the guy of not being a Sikh.

    This is the sort of farcical discussion that takes place on the topic.

    By the way, as I said, I sat in on a committee meeting of all the London gurudwaras where they discussed the play and their objections. NO ONE raised the point about menstruation. Their two main objections were about the fact it was meant to be in a Gurudwara and that there was kirtan being played during the rape. That’s primarily it. Gives you an indication as to the different objections.

  31. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 6:57 pm  

    Sunny,

    =>”Ok, initially I thought this was going to be a sane discussion on the play, not its just turned into another bout of hysterics.”

    I don’t think anybody here is becoming hysterical — in fact we are all being exceptionally restrained. With all due respect, let’s keep off the table — we don’t want this to degenerate into another slanging match, as has already happened several times on Sepia Mutiny.

    =>”My point was that the writer has been repeatedly held up to be a “devout Sikh”
    Where was she held up as such?”

    It happened repeatedly in the mainstream media at the time of the controversy.

    =>”There is no analogy, all you said was “see, Hindus and Muslims get annoyed, why can’t we?” in essence. Again, I don’t see that as relevant. There should be competition to be tolerant, not competition to get offended.”

    Nobody is competing with anyone here — and neither should there be a competion to see who can be the most tolerant either. One should be tolerant for its own sake, because one genuinely believes in the validity of one’s position and viewpoint — regardless of how conservative or narrow-minded other people/groups may be.

    =>”it was the whole idea that Sikh granthis are foul-mouthed bisexual rapists.
    Really? There was only one. How you saw that as a commentary on all granthis is beyond me.”

    It’s very simple. As I said before, the publicity blurb for this play said “What REALLY goes on inside a Sikh temple”; the inference here is that the psychotic behaviour depicted by the granthi character is a common, widespread occurance.

    Jay,

    =>”I disagree with you about the thing about the granthi. That is a matter of fiction – it could happen. It is not outside the realms of possibility”

    You’re right, but my objection is (as explained in my response to Sunny above) that this kind of behaviour was depicted as being “the norm”, when we all know that in reality this is not the case.

  32. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:01 pm  

    Plus the writer subsequently admitted, albeit grudgingly, that she had made the whole thing up and that it wasn’t actually based on any “real” events at all.

    (I’m referring to the bisexual/rapist granthi issue, along with the rape inside the gurdwara — not the menstruation controversy).

  33. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:01 pm  

    Sunny, I have never in my life heard about menstruating women being ‘discouraged’ from entering a Gurdwara, and I talked about this extensively with every Sikh woman I know and have read the play through, and not a single one of them said it happens. And I spoke to my grandmother and great aunt, and cousins and asked my friends to speak to their mothers and ask them to.

    Why the need to insult, by the way, bro? Farcical, hysterical? Ease up please, I am neither of those things, and if you see the above, I disagree with Jai’s assertion that the granthi angle could never happen. But I do think that the treatment was sensationalistic.

  34. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:02 pm  

    A sikh temple, not every sikh temple. I don’t think the people going to seee the play were villagers. They are sophisticated appreciaters of art who see it as fiction. Not only that, a message was read out to everyone before the play started making it obvious it was a work of fiction relating and did not apply to everything. So your assertion does not stand.

    Neither does the assertion that the media held her up as a devout Sikh. Show me some examples.

    Tolerance for tolerance’s sake yes… which is why I don’t see the point of the Christian and Muslim comparison. They have their own agendas and reasons. A portrait of Guru Nanak earns you plaudits in Punjab, whereas a portrait of the Prophet Mohammed can get you killed in Pakistan. Different standards and sensibilities.

  35. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:03 pm  

    *One should be tolerant for its own sake, because one genuinely believes in the validity of one’s position and viewpoint — regardless of how conservative or narrow-minded other people/groups may be.

    Typo: That should read “…..regardless of how conservative/narrow-minded OR liberal/broad-minded other people/groups may be”.

  36. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:07 pm  

    Sunny

    My assertion stands. It stands in particular in the claims for the play – that it represents an accurate truth about Sikh pratice in Britain. Not only by the play, but in the aftermath, the claims made for it and its meaning by commentators and writers. If it is all about fiction, then fine, i would actually have a great deal of honesty with that position but would please ask people to drop the pretence of accuracy or that the play speaks the truth and blah blah blah

  37. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:09 pm  

    Correction:

    If it is all about fiction, then fine, i would actually have a great deal of RESPECTfor that position but would please ask people to drop the pretence of accuracy

  38. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:11 pm  

    Sunny,

    =>”A sikh temple, not every sikh temple.”

    With all due respect, you’re ‘reaching’, here ;)

    =>”Neither does the assertion that the media held her up as a devout Sikh. Show me some examples.”

    Newspaper articles from over a year ago….? Not exactly easily available on-line……

    =>”which is why I don’t see the point of the Christian and Muslim comparison. They have their own agendas and reasons. A portrait of Guru Nanak earns you plaudits in Punjab, whereas a portrait of the Prophet Mohammed can get you killed in Pakistan. Different standards and sensibilities.”

    My point isn’t about standards and sensibilities. It’s about propaganda and misrepresentation.

    Which, again, was my original point when I made the mosque analogy — it wasn’t about Muslims, Hindus etc becoming similarly offended — I was referring to the notion of people lying about the reality of these places of worship and the nature of the priests within them.

  39. Jai — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:18 pm  

    Jay,

    =>”I disagree with Jai’s assertion that the granthi angle could never happen. ”

    No buddy, I wasn’t saying it could NEVER happen — my point, as I’ve said in my responses to Sunny, is that it’s not exactly a common, widespread occurance (despite what the play was attempting to claim), as I also said in post 31.

  40. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:19 pm  

    We are getting into the semantics of the value of the play here – we all agree that the play should not have ended. But at the same time, some of the claims made for the play are silly, and I just wanted to register my thoughts while we were on the topic.

  41. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:40 pm  

    How the play claimed that everything happened in it was an everyday occurence that applied to everyone and was the truth in all religious matters is beyond me.

    I’m sorry but both of you seem to, like the rest, fundamentally mis-understand the point of a one off fictional play.

    Does everything I write for example have to be a regular occurence that applies to everyone and all the time, and have to be grounded in real events?

    This is a silly discussion because we don’t seem to come from the same viewpoint. I’m defending her right to write it and showcase it because I see the play as a fundamentally different animal to you two. Anyway, I can’t be asked to go round and round in circles.

    And Jai – all those articles will be available online.. since british papers make all their articles available except the Indy.

  42. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:51 pm  

    Sunny

    No need to be patronising!

    My points all stand and are valid – I shall not bother to reitierate them in response to this. But I do think that you are being slightly disingenuous – the issue of veracity and truth is central to the internal dynamics of the play and the claims made for it..

  43. Amandeep Madra — on 26th January, 2006 at 7:52 pm  

    About 6 months after the Bezhti affair a young pregnant Sikh woman took her two infant children to Southall train station. This was in the heart of the Sikh community and literally on the doorstep of the UKs largest gurdwara. There, she threw herself and her two kids before speeding intercity train killing herself, her unborn child and her two kids.
    I mention this because that horrendous event thre up a number of issues that are very particular to the Sikh community (and possibly others); namely issues of mental illness, high suicide rates amongst Asian women, possible alcoholism, spousal abuse and the insufferable pressure put on young Asian (Sikh) women in extended families. I don’t know how many of these actually applied to the young woman in question but certainly those issues were thrown into sharp relief at that moment.
    I am left wondering that 6 months after that horrible suicide did our leaders in the Gurdwaras take the reigns on confronting these issues? Did they start a dialogue with the wider community on alcoholism, spousal abuse, mental illness, family pressures? these are the men that fight each other to lead us but did they take the lead in confronting the real issues that face our community? The answer is of course no.
    So the question becomes; why have the Sikh community and its old, male, turbaned leadership not deal with issues that tear apart Sikh families? the answer is literally bezhti.
    I suspect that Bhatti was trying to illustrate the figurative notion of kirtan drowning out the noises of serious community issues. However she did this in a really cack-handed way, wearing size nines. Goaded on by the victim loving luvvy arts community in Birmingham she staged a play that totally mis-judged the reaction and in doing so completely wiped out any message that she may have been trying to deliver. Her defiant defense of the play in later months simply underlined her continued ignorance towards a situation she had created.

  44. GS — on 26th January, 2006 at 8:45 pm  

    The writer’s ‘Sikhness’ devout or otherwise, was used in the media at the time to legitimise any point the play was trying to make.

    Despite being very visible, Sikhs remain a community that is largely misunderstood, both within the UK and on a global level. Any exposure the community gets will inevitably leave a mark on the wider public conscience. I am not saying that this exposure has to always be positive, however it should be based on truth. This play was as far removed from a representation of what truthfully happens in a Gurudwara as is possible, and this is why the debate continues.

    Yes it is a work of fiction, however by marketing the play as “what really goes on in a Sikh temple”, opinions on the faith will be formed. This applies no matter how sophisticated the appreciators of art may be.

  45. David T — on 26th January, 2006 at 10:08 pm  

    Jay

    this premise might cause white liberal chests to swell with pride at their ability to ‘civilise the natives’

    Are you really going to run this line?

    It strikes me that you’re perfectly capable of running your argument without doing so.

  46. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 10:35 pm  

    David T

    Sorry if I offended you. I withdraw it.

    ++++++

    Amandeep Madra

    A very good post.

  47. David T — on 26th January, 2006 at 10:55 pm  

    Jay

    Sure. I’m not really.

    The thing is: there are certainly things you can say about a religion which are strongly objectionable. Things which play on conspiracy theories about an ethnic group. Or offensive ethnic stereotypes, for that matter.

    I’m told that Sikhs are customarily portrayed in Bollywood films as stupid or violent: and I can see that a play or book or film which played on those stereotypes could amount, in effect, to a slander of a cultural group.

    There’s also a second tier of offensiveness: the objectionable nature of a work which is perceived as an attack on a particular religious identity, or which is objected to because it depicts a culture in an inaccurate manner.

    Neither, I think we’re agreed, warrants the suppression of a piece.

    What makes people call for works to be banned, I think, is that members of cultural groups sometimes feel so marginalised and unsure of their own security as a member of a particular cultural group, that they react as if they’ve been attacked. It may be a different reaction from quivering and keeping your head down: but it is no less an expression of insecurity.

    A liberal response focusses on the reasons for that sense of insecurity, rather than engaging in a futile attempt to deal with its symptoms.

  48. Sunny — on 26th January, 2006 at 10:57 pm  

    I’m trying my best not to send patronising Jay, and because we have frequent discussions on various issues I don’t see you as an ignorant villager who runs for the standard line.

    However. I don’t buy the line that the play was intentionally trying to make the Sikh community look bad, or that she had an axe to grind, or that it was a commentrary on the state of the Sikh community.

    1) A play does not always have to provide a good image of anyone and just because you think your community is “misunderstood” is no excuse to slate anyone who has anything negative to highlight.

    2) The media was actually quite positive towards the Sikh community, and if you scoured the papers like I did, you’ll see this. Even the Daily Mail was saying that Sikhs were always known as one of the hardest working minorities in the UK etc. I don’t see how Sikhs are “misunderstood”. The population doesn’t know everything about Sikhism, but they are not “misunderstood”.

    3) Much of the palava and the protests could have been avoided if it wasn’t for the Sikh leaders playing upmanship at the protests and threatening they would get busloads of people from all over Europe until the play shut down. This is still fucking village mentality and I’m annoyed that the theatre gave into strong-arm tactics.

    4) Figuratively and metaphorically, Amandeep has come the closest to understanding what the play was about why it had things in the way it did. Having it in a community hall was rubbish – it would take away the central point being made – that the so called community leaders don’t want to deal with issues within their community. They’re too busy playing politics and building bigger gurudwaras.

    All the rubbish about Sikh women being considered equal. There was one woman in the entire meeting of 40 gurudwara elders and she wasn’t even on any committee. There is blatant sexism on all political and religious levels within our community.

    5) Just because some Sikh girls were appalled at the play doesn’t mean that it failed. There are plenty of Sikh men and women I know who understood what it was trying to get at. Unfortunately there are plenty of women who don’t understand feminism even if it hits them in the face….. as shown by those women who fight for their right to wear a Burqa/Niqaab.

    6) I don’t buy the “goaded” argument much either. She did paint herself into a corner, but she was on a scheme with the Birmingham Rep whereby they would put on a play that she produced. Her previous play was a big success and therefore the ball was in her court.

    Whether the play was artistically sound or not is another debate to me. It was the point she was trying to make (maybe badly) and the issues she was trying to highlight, and the way that “the community” reacted that is of most interest to me.

  49. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 11:05 pm  

    DAvid T

    Here is the news about my chest thumping liberal statement – the stupidity of a theatre manager carrying out some kind of white mans burden complex and summoning ‘community elders’ to his office to show them a deeply stupid and mendacious coon show dressed up as a line of truth. If that idiot had not have done that, none of this would have happened. You know how tribal a city Birmingham is – look what happened nine months later when a rumour about a rape took place and ‘activists’ took up the cause – race riots and Sikhs battered and gurdwaras attacked by a racist mob.

    I wonder if the Rep will be commissioning a play about teh antics of the Ligali boys…

  50. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 11:11 pm  

    Sunny

    Amandeep Madra’s post articulates everything clearly. In fact, Amandeep has rendered further comment by me superfluous.

    Your interpretation of what the play was and was not is different from mine – we can agree to differ. Please dont look down on the women I read the play through with – it is partly this haughty tone and attitude that annoys them: just because they dont like the play they are a bunch of imbeciles. This is a troubling and patronising attitude and I know you dont mean it to come out that way.

  51. Jay Singh — on 26th January, 2006 at 11:14 pm  

    David T

    Please study the suppression of Jim Allens play Perdition in mid run at the Royal Court Theatre in 1989 after representations by some Jewish leaders – there are many parallels.

  52. David T — on 26th January, 2006 at 11:46 pm  

    Yeah, well, you know my views on inviting “community leaders” in for cosy talks…

    Perdition was a play which, so I understand, was written by a trotskyite playwright – Jim Allen – loosely based around a defamation trial in Israel about a jewish community leader who was accused of having collaborated with the Nazis in a manner which led to the death of thousands of Hungarian jews. The community leader was trying to cut some sort of deal which would have allowed some of those jews to escape death. Jim Allen’s play suggested that the community leader had been manipulatively collaborating in mass murder: sacrificing human lives in order to help to bring the State of Israel into existence.

    A quick browse through the websites of the far right and the far left should quickly uncover the provenance of that particular argument.

    Frankly, that is all you really ought or need to do, in order to discredit that particular canard. “Trot runs hoary old conspiracy theory” is no surprise to anybody. In fact, it does a service: this sort of discourse needs to be paraded every few years so that it can be debunked.

  53. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 12:04 am  

    David T

    Well, that is the idiocy of the luvvie left. I hope to God those half-wits have learnt a lesson and let go of their hubris and civilising mission – it must be tough to aspire to be important and cutying egde (how wadical!)in between prancing around the pantomine rehearsals and auditioning grown men to act as tea pots. For goodness sake, have some common sense if you are going to promote idiotic sensationalist and cack handed Channel 4 sociology reports on stage.

    I actually debated this with a theatre director from London by e-mail. The kind of thing we are discussing now. Then in July he wrote me an e-mail giving a virtual text book stopper justification for the 7/7 suicide bombings. Typical Chomskyite impeach Bliar excuse. I told him I am glad – I only tried analyse a crappy play – you can see the point of suicide bombers. And there I was feeling guilty for dissing the Birmingham Rep.

    Luvvies are really confused.

    +++++

    re: Perdition: play suppressed half way through its run because of protests from leaders of a religious minority.

    It would be interesting to see what kind of response that play would get if performed today and in todays climate.

  54. Siddharth — on 27th January, 2006 at 12:42 am  

    David T

    What makes people call for works to be banned, I think, is that members of cultural groups sometimes feel so marginalised and unsure of their own security as a member of a particular cultural group, that they react as if they’ve been attacked. It may be a different reaction from quivering and keeping your head down: but it is no less an expression of insecurity.

    The ‘quivering and keeping your head down’ bit is, I’m sure, a playful little allusion to the shifty servility of the stereotype subcontinental. And when they’re not quiviering and keeping their heads down, they’re getting restless by calling for the ban of any peice of work that offends their beliefs.

    OK, fine, got that. But what allusions do you bring to the table when discussing Christians and their call for the ban of ‘Jerry Springer The Opera’. Including, I understand, their intentions to remove the DVD from certain retail outlets. That sounds like they have some powerful players in their midst.

    Is this a race/class thing? You only ever get to see a bunch of Indians pelting theatre windows and making a nuisance of themselves. But when the Christians are offended, sure we get to read a lot of innuendo about Stephen Green on Harry’s Place, but nowhere near the same breadth of animus as towards the Sikhs for Behzti.

    If a BNP member were to produce a peice of shite that was searingly homophobic, I would see no qualms in asking for it to be banned. I don’t care what Cartesian sensibilities I offend by asking for that particular piece of artistic self-expression to be relieved of its desire to express itself. Wouldn’t you?

  55. Siddharth — on 27th January, 2006 at 1:28 am  

    Anyway, happy Republic Day Rohin and the other Injuns in the PP lounge bar. ;-)

  56. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:03 am  

    What makes people call for works to be banned, I think, is that members of cultural groups sometimes feel so marginalised and unsure of their own security as a member of a particular cultural group, that they react as if they’ve been attacked. It may be a different reaction from quivering and keeping your head down: but it is no less an expression of insecurity.

    David T

    Do you think that this applied in 1989 when Perdition was banned?

    I don’t know – something is missing from your broad stroke analysis – something does not ring right.

  57. David T — on 27th January, 2006 at 7:49 am  

    Yeah. Its possible that people just have very strong religious taboos which make them sensitive to the mixing of the sacred with the profane.

  58. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 11:04 am  

    David T

    There are pressure points everywhere – believe me – you can put rumours of a rape, Lord Krishna on a thong, a play about Zionists in Hungary and cause deep trouble if you type in the co-ordinates in right. My lingering confusion is about the unanimity of opinion on this particlar play from the dozens (well over a hundred) Sikh women and girls who I read the play with – a sense of unfairness that this could be represented as truth. It goes beyond sacred and profane.

  59. David T — on 27th January, 2006 at 11:10 am  

    Hmm.

    It is a weird thing.

    My mate’s reaction was that it was a bunch of by very culturally conservative politicos flexing their communal muscles. Clearly, though, they had some raw material with which to work.

  60. Jai — on 27th January, 2006 at 11:14 am  

    Jay & David T,

    =>”My mate’s reaction was that it was a bunch of by very culturally conservative politicos flexing their communal muscles”

    Not at all. Even very liberal Sikhs — here in the UK, over in the US, back in India — found the contents of the play disgusting, slanderous, and deliberately offensive.

  61. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 11:18 am  

    David

    Yes – that was the flashpoint – a marriage of the ‘elders’ with a stupid theatre management who thought it their duty to carry out civilising and social work. That was the casue of the rumpus at the time. I am thinking of the aftermath and the actual play itself. Perhaps if you havent read it, it is superfluous discussion. I think it involves simple annoyance at the posturing of luvvies too. The play is really mendacious and put liberal Sikhs in an invidious position.

  62. David T — on 27th January, 2006 at 11:34 am  

    Not at all. Even very liberal Sikhs — here in the UK, over in the US, back in India — found the contents of the play disgusting, slanderous, and deliberately offensive.

    Oh but honestly, why would any sensible person care about what a play said? That’s what I can’t work out.

  63. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 11:41 am  

    why would any sensible person care about what a play said? That’s what I can’t work out

    Why care about anything? If it is out there in the air and being debated, people are going to care about it.

  64. Jai — on 27th January, 2006 at 11:58 am  

    David,

    A number of reasons, depending on the particular individual:

    1. Sikhs are supposed to stand up against injustice and maliciousness, both towards themselves and when other parties are subject to unwarranted attacks.

    2. A Sikh temple is actually supposed to be a “refuge” for people regardless of their religious affiliation or background. The principles behind it represent the highest ideals of truth, compassion, equality, etc for the entire human race. It’s not just meant to be a “place for Sikhs to worship ‘their’ God”.

    3. Sikh religious music, drawn from Sikh scriptures, is regarded as being sacred to the point of being a literal manifestation of God. This is one major reason why people objected so strongly to the portrayal of rape occuring whilst these songs were playing in the background.

    4. Asians are still a minority here in the UK and amongst many quarters of the wider population, there is still a great deal of ignorance about many aspects of Asian life, both “culturally” (ie. social issues) and with regards to religious matters too. Breaking this down into an Asian “sub-group”, this also applies to Sikhs and Sikhism. This is another reason why many Sikhs objected to what was depicted in the play — because it implied that this was an accurate reflection of the reality of Sikh temple life and the nature of Sikh priests; the implication being “you didn’t know until now what really goes on inside this community, but here’s the reality”.

    5. Sikhs, socially and religiously, have historically been a minority group within the wider Indian population too, and although the proportions are different out here in the West (with much greater Sikh representation), back in India they are still often a target for ridicule and misrepresentation. You would also be surprised exactly how much the Indian popular media gets away with in terms of grossly distorting the portrayal of Sikh religious tenets. So, Sikhs over here can be a little sensitive about these things too.

    6. Remember that, although life in the UK is much better for Asians these days, many Asians (both older and younger generations) will remember the level of racism that so many of us had to deal with when we were younger. So, many Sikhs didn’t want “the clock turned back” as a result of a grossly-distorted, alleged “expose” of the community.

    7. Lastly, post-9/11 there has been an increase of hostility and prejudice towards Asians in some (not all) sections of the wider population, so the concern was that depicting Sikhs in such a negative fashion in this play is just going to add fuel to the fire.

  65. Kay — on 27th January, 2006 at 12:09 pm  

    Can everyone please relax and stop ‘picking’ and justifying the moral codes of sikhism.

    x

  66. Kay — on 27th January, 2006 at 12:13 pm  

    As I stated earlier;
    ‘As I haven’t seen the play I can only form my own judgment but must say that such an apathetic portrayal of british sikhs is in somewhat ways harmful to the community.’

    This play, although may an expression of the writers opinion, shes perhaps doing more harm then good by representing British Asian sikhs in this manner.

  67. Siddharth — on 27th January, 2006 at 12:16 pm  

    Yeah, anyone would think there’s been offensive cartoons of Guru Nanak published by some assholes in Canada. Oh sorry, thats a Muslim ting-an-ting and the cartoons are of the Prophet Mohammad. But lets save that for another post and another comments stream.
    :-)

  68. Sunny — on 27th January, 2006 at 12:59 pm  

    Again, we’ve descended into hysterics. What exactly was so sacred and profane that was going to destroy the very institution of Sikhism until those “defenders of the faith” protested there?

    As Amardeep pointed out, the point she was trying to make was very real and important. Too bad hardly anyone got it. Getting someone to go mad over something religious isn’t difficult, its more difficult to get them to understand what the writer was trying to say.

  69. David T — on 27th January, 2006 at 2:19 pm  

    “you didn’t know until now what really goes on inside this community, but here’s the reality”.

    Sure. But this is an absurdly defensive reaction. I don’t think that anybody thinks that if you walk into a gurdawara you’ll be raped. That’s not playing on a stereotype about Sikhs or anything like that.

    It strikes me that the sort of events that the play dealt with do, in fact, reflect the sorts of things which happen in all hierarchical religious institutions from time to time. This is something worth writing about, surely? And you shouldn’t be deterred from doing so because you’re worried that ignorant people might think that the point of the play was that temples are chock a block with gay Sikhs who sit around all day waiting for the next woman to rape…

  70. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:00 pm  

    Sunny

    Sorry, I dont see any hysterics here. And I dont think you understand the point that Amandeep made – in fact I think you completely misunderstand him. He was in fact saying that the author of the play was completely cack handed and failed to make her point well. As he says:

    she staged a play that totally mis-judged the reaction and in doing so completely wiped out any message that she may have been trying to deliver.

  71. Jai — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:00 pm  

    David,

    You’re right about the defensiveness — with regards to the death-threats and a handful of people breaking into the theatre, not the principle behind the protest itself though — but as I’ve kept saying, the writer did not create this play for the reasons some people on this thread think she did; she made it clear afterwards that the whole thing was completely fictional and not based on any “real life” events, so her aim obviously was not to reflect or “generate debate” about any alleged shenanigans occuring behind closed doors within Sikh temples.

    I agree with you completely that if there really is a relatively widespread occurance of certain malicious activity — child abuse within the American catholic church, or the number of sex scandals that have recently hit some Hindu religious sects back in India who were supposed to espouse celibacy amongst their adherents — then it is certainly a good idea to address these issues via the creative arts.

    Similarly, the fact that (for example) there has been some controversy about women not being allowed to sing hymns in the Golden Temple — despite there actually not being any religious tenets preventing them from doing so — purely due to the entrenched patriarchy of the people preventing them from doing so, would definitely be a good idea for a play or story. The same applies to any other real-life controversies which may be occuring within the present-day Sikh religious infrastructure. Again, the point is not to shy away from addressing such injustices — the point is to ensure that the matters one is discussing are factually correct and not misrepresented.

    I will politely refrain from responding to Sunny’s last post, as I recall him stating some time ago, in response to another commenter who mentioned his perceived Sikh background, “What makes you think I’m a Sikh ?”. If he really has rejected any formal or informal affiliation to Sikhism — and he is perfectly entitled to his beliefs and opinions — then we probably don’t have enough common ground or common frames of reference with regards to this particular issue in order to continue discussing it, especially as he appears to be repeatedly misinterpreting the patiently-explained, politely-stated and civilised posts by myself and several other commenters as “descending into hysterics”.

  72. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:13 pm  

    David T

    The play is a coon show – a ‘black-comedy’ written to titillate middle class white theatre goers. Case in point – if you are going to speak about ‘representation’, represent well ie: do not lie and invent taboos that do not exist to boost up the charnel house quoitient.

    It was designed to offend, it succeeded, the whole thing was a disaster. But you saying ‘dont get offended, dont be so defensive’ misses the point. It misses the point telling Jewish people not to be offended by a play saying that Zionists were in league with the Nazis. Some people find some things offensive, sneering at them doesnt do much to change that.

    I would have alot of respect if people just said, yes, we want coon shows to laugh at the Sikhs and Pakis, this is freedom of speech, because freedom of speech is absolute. But the pompous self regard of those who say, “hey, chill out man, dont be offended when you are defecated on’ (I do not mean you specifically!) doesnt really add anything to the matter.

  73. Sunny — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:20 pm  

    I haven’t missed Amardeep’s point at all.

    the whole thing was completely fictional and not based on any “real life” events, so her aim obviously was not to reflect or “generate debate” about any alleged shenanigans occuring behind closed doors within Sikh temples.

    This is what Jay Singh and Jai are trying to say. Except that there is a point to be made, as Amardeep and I have been saying, and there is a discussion to be had about issues, but she just did it badly.

    That is something both of you don’t seem to want to admit.

    Jai also states:
    If he really has rejected any formal or informal affiliation to Sikhism — and he is perfectly entitled to his beliefs and opinions — then we probably don’t have enough common ground or common frames of reference with regards to this particular issue in order to continue discussing it,

    So I guess I can make the same point the next time you say anything about Hinduism or Islam… right? I may not openly call myself a Sikh (and there are reasons for that) but that doesn’t mean I can’t comment on issues or what I’m unaware of what is going on. Please don’t make silly presumptions.

  74. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:21 pm  

    David

    We are just going around in ever decreasing circles now. We are all agreed that theatres should be allowed to do what they want. I wish they hadnt brought this all on by their half-witted communion with ‘elders’. Lets hope they have learnt their lesson.

    cheers

  75. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:24 pm  

    That is something both of you don’t seem to want to admit.

    Sunny, come on, please dont be so amateurish. Is that seriously what your perspective is? That I am some kind of ostrich with my head in the sand? Please, that is beneath you to debate like that, it is what I would suspect from a lesser person than you. I mean seriously, after I wrote the article about Leamington Spa? Please, debate in good faith.

  76. Sunny — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:31 pm  

    Jay, I’m only going by opinions such as:

    The play is a coon show – a ‘black-comedy’ written to titillate middle class white theatre goers.

    and

    It was designed to offend, it succeeded, the whole thing was a disaster.

    and

    her aim obviously was not to reflect or “generate debate” about any alleged shenanigans occuring behind closed doors within Sikh temples.

    I happen to know some of her personal life history and her thinking behind this, having talked about it quite a bit, so I know those accusations to be baseless.

    You can say that she had a point to make, but did it badly, as Amardeep has said.

    But to say that she had no point to make, and was out only to offend people and make the Sikh community look bad – that is what I call hysterics with little understanding of the play or what she was trying to say.

    Just because something may not be directly related to real events does not mean there is no point to make. That is absurd.

    And I still don’t get what exactly you two are so riled up about. What exactly was “blasphemous” in the play. Please, tell me.

  77. Jai — on 27th January, 2006 at 3:45 pm  

    =>”That is something both of you don’t seem to want to admit.”

    There appears to be some selective reading of our posts occuring here. Jay and I have both said — over and over again — that issues should certainly be discussed, but ONLY IF THEY HAVE ANY BASIS IN FACT.

    My post no. 71 makes this very clear indeed.

    =>”So I guess I can make the same point the next time you say anything about Hinduism or Islam… right? I may not openly call myself a Sikh (and there are reasons for that) but that doesn’t mean I can’t comment on issues or what I’m unaware of what is going on.”

    Not at all. It just means that we are approaching this issue (and possibly any others relating to Sikhism) from different angles, and that therefore we will have different motivations and quite possibly reach very different conclusions. Moreover — and this is the point I was making previously — our priorities are going to be different. The fact that you think Jay and I are being “hysterical”, despite the blatantly obvious fact that we are not, is a symptom of this. Regrettably our priorities may possibly also be adversarial, hence my decision to discontinue any conversation on this topic in order to pre-empt any potential nastiness that may ensue.

    A Muslim or a Hindu would be entirely justified in wondering about my own agenda if I say anything questionable about Islam or Hinduism, or the actions of its respective adherents. Unless the other party knows me personally, or has interacted with me to a sufficient degree on discussion forums (Sepia Mutiny or Sikhnet being the most obvious examples) to have gained a sufficient understanding of my own personality, they cannot possibly know that I do not necessarily have any malicious motivations, I attempt to be as honest and objective as possible, and I certainly do not engage in either verbal sophistry or aggressive verbal abuse.

    I have no underlying agenda to push except for honesty, fairness, civilised behaviour, and the fact that the truth should always be paramount.

    =>”And I still don’t get what exactly you two are so riled up about. What exactly was “blasphemous” in the play. Please, tell me.”

    I already covered this in post no. 64.

  78. Amandeep Madra — on 27th January, 2006 at 4:06 pm  

    Most Asian communities, including the Sikhs, are paralysed by behzti. Not the play but the concept of shame / dishonour.
    Bezhti disables our ability to gain some sense of communal catharsis by sharing and dealing with problems and bezhti drives our worse traits under the carpet and ostracizes the radical thinkers in our communities. It is also the unseen moral policeman. It’s a complex and two-sided concept worthy of artistic interpretation and worthy of a deeper insight in the context of the unique pressures of urban, modern British life – a life far removed from village Punjab.
    Did the play titled “Bezhti” do any justice to the issues of dishonour in the Sikh community ? I would say categorically no. That makes it a poor play and probably a naive or careless playwright. That, for me, is about it.
    The Sikhs should have fought tooth and nail for the right of the theatre to show the play. They should have used their physical might to ensure that the play was staged but at the same time objected to its content as offensive to them. Whilst the world’s media was watching that would have shown Sikhs to be a noble, modern and free thinking people and would have gone a long way in asserting some of the characteristics that are in the self-image of Sikhs.
    We all know that this didn’t happen.
    In fact, the Sikh reaction to the violence was typically south Asian “the violence wasn’t caused by true Sikhs” (flashback to the Pakistani reaction to the 7/7 bombers). Whilst on Newsnight that evening Jasdev Rai protested that the violence was caused by drunks he asserted that Sikhs were lovers of free speech and the ninth Guru dies for free speech. Fortunately for the Sikh community not a single journalist googled this to find out that the last three excommunications from the Sikh faith were against writers! and that within living memory two leaders of Sikh minority cults have been gunned down by pious Sikhs!
    Again, in a typically south Asian way we don’t want others to raise these issues on our behalf. We don’t want our dirty laundry washed in public.. why should we ? That would be …..

  79. Siddharth — on 27th January, 2006 at 4:15 pm  

    Most Asian communities, including the Sikhs, are paralysed by behzti. Not the play but the concept of shame / dishonour.

    Well I can’t argue with that Amandeep. Good post all round!

  80. Jay Singh — on 27th January, 2006 at 4:39 pm  

    Sunny

    Seriously, your use of the word ‘hysterical’ is getting to be…a little hysterical! And I dont think the third quote you ascribe to me is mine.

    I dont care about the ‘blasphemy’ of the play – I care about its fallacies. I see it as a coon show – that is my opinion. The reasons I have outlined in my posts above. I do think you debate in bad faith Sunny – it is really dissapointing.

  81. Bikhair — on 27th January, 2006 at 5:25 pm  

    Sunny,

    “Unfortunately there are plenty of women who don’t understand feminism even if it hits them in the face….. as shown by those women who fight for their right to wear a Burqa/Niqaab.”

    I am one of those women who doesnt understand feminism. I thought feminism was about choice, and if women chose to wear Burqa or Niqab how is that a bad thing? If feminism is just an exercise in heresy with no meaning for women it should remain misunderstood as there aint much to understand. Or maybe that is the Turkish or Tunisian brand of feminism.

  82. Sunny — on 27th January, 2006 at 6:56 pm  

    Feminism hunny, is not just about choice, it is a recognition and the demand for equality to men on several levels. You can demand the choice to take your own life, it would be no big deal. Asking for pure equality, and fighting tooth and nail for it, thats different.

    Jai you say:
    we will have different motivations and quite possibly reach very different conclusions.
    You’re making assumptions about my motivations. And you don’t have to be of the same religion to reach similar or diff conclusions, since you seem to be implying that.

    A Muslim or a Hindu would be entirely justified in wondering about my own agenda if I say anything questionable about Islam or Hinduism, or the actions of its respective adherents.

    That would be the typical reaction but I prefer to judge people on what they write rather than who they claim to be.
    Amandeep Madra could be a Muslim… who knows? But you’re still taking his point at face value.

    Then you say:
    I have no underlying agenda to push except for honesty, fairness, civilised behaviour, and the fact that the truth should always be paramount.
    But you just admitted that being from a particular religion may imply you have an agenda or ulterior motive. Why should I take your assertion seriously unless you apply the same to me?
    I may not call myself a Sikh, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the truth or the best for the Sikh community?

  83. mirax — on 27th January, 2006 at 7:03 pm  

    looks like Amandeep has nailed it right between the eyes. Well done woman!
    (why the automatic assumption by someone earlier that Amandeep is a man…?)

    FWIW, I do think that both Jay and Jai sound very defensive but are not actually hysterical.

    It is bikki on feminism who cracks me up. Feminism is not simplistically JUST about a choice of dress just as democracy is not JUST a vote stuffed in a ballot box. It is also about thinking through one’s choices and the consequences of that choice.

  84. Jay Singh — on 28th January, 2006 at 10:05 pm  

    Not defensive – just telling it as I see it.

  85. mortgage — on 4th February, 2006 at 2:32 am  

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