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Sikh News Statement by Sikh groups on Behzti

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Neutral Singh, Dec 17, 2004.

  1. Neutral Singh

    Neutral Singh
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    Statement by Sikh groups on Behzti
    17th December, 2004

    Any institute, religious or otherwise, is open to corruption, abuse and political ambition. Like the child-molesting priests of the Catholic faith, or the bigotry of some Imams of the Moslem faith and the Pundits of Hindus, the Sikh institute is no different. A minority rogue often attempts to distract the main stage of an institute’s mission.

    To stage a play about the corruption of its institute is always welcomed by the Sikh faith, as it welcomes debate, reform and criticism, so that it improves its practice along the lines as stated by our Gurus.

    We do not have a problem with this.

    However there are some moral issues within each community’s religious sphere that provokes intense reaction from the community. In the sikh community, rape and molestation of women leads to immediate isolation of an individual from the religious sphere.

    This is because there is a well established principle of equality in Sikh religion (even if not always practiced in the private family sphere) and women have always had equal and free access to religious institutions. Indeed the current president of the most powerful Sikh religious body in India is a woman. It is to guard the free access of women to religious institutions that the Sikh religious community takes abrupt action against any degrading treatment of women in a religious institution.

    To stage a play around such a feature in a Sikh religious institution not only shows ignorance of the community, but a deliberate attempt to be offensive and sensationalist for the sake of it. It is a theme imported from a different culture and a different life experience, desperately and dysfunctionally exploited in a play to seek approval from the white arts establishment which subtly imposes its racism in the name of ‘artistic licence’ with the funds of the public

    The problem we have with the production of Behzthi by Birmingham Rep theatre is how it has set out, at the outset to be ‘controversial’ for the sake of being sensationalist and in the process offending the sensibilities of some deeply religious members of the Birmingham community which the The Rep supposedly serves and is substantially funded by.

    The Play, Bezthi is a social drama dealing with hypocrisy of cultural standards. However it is set in a Gurudwara (Sikh temple), which by its nature becomes the major statement of the play. The two characters who are representatives of the Gurudwara – the Chairperson of the Committee and a Giani (Priest) are pivotal characters in the play, the first characterized as a rogue element and the second caricaturized for comedic effects.

    Whilst the Chairperson justifiably meets his demise and we applaud it, ( in real life, if the background of such a person was known, the community would simply never bring him into the committee. In fact people have been known to be killed when such a person tries to get into a committee). it is the caricature element of the Giani that we have major issues with.

    He is portrayed as being irresponsible and out of depth of the principles he is supposedly preaching. Therefore the two representatives of the Gurudwara are depicted in a negative sensibility. They are from the same side of the coin and therefore serve no purpose with each other, except and we see no other option but to reach this conclusion, - that it serves the production’s intent to demonise the Sikh institute.

    Through neither of these characters do we learn anything about the Sikh religion’s or the Gurudwaras established principles, thereby making the point of exposing the hypocrisy wholly worthless. The rogue-ish element is never confronted from within the values of Sikh principles.

    Even, the resolution of the play comes from an equally rogu-ish element; the character who takes the final action to end the reign of the corrupt official, is driven by the action of the withdrawal of the contract for her sons to build the extension to the Gurudwara, and not by any moralistic position.

    So why set this play in a Gurudwara.? Do we learn that this corruption is a minority element in the Sikh institute? Do we learn that there are within the institute, campaigns and efforts to reform against this minority?

    Has the writer researched that, due to the religious laws of the UK, places of worship are forced to operate and regulated by charity laws, and are dictated by these laws, to create systems of management which can be open to external rogue elements and are in fact against Sikh principles? (which the Sikhs and other minority religions are vigorously campaigning against)

    Is the play using cheap sensationalism to offend religious sensibility to attract controversy? A play that has little research and even less relation to fringe reality.

    Most religious sensitive audiences who have seen the play have been offended by the play’s depiction of the Sikh religion, This is fast becoming a sizeable reaction. But we have yet to be met with an apology from Birmingham Rep, who appear to be relishing in the snobbery of white established theatre.

    The play says more about the arts establishment which continues to use public funds to promote offensive productions on minorities in the name of art. Writers from minority communities who have little knowledge of their own communities but are willing to write highly offensive material continue to be sought by the white arts establishment. Is this not racism?
     
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  3. drkhalsa

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    Statement regarding Behzthi



    The Sikh Community would like to outline the series of events that led up to the demonstration on Saturday 18th December outside the Birmingham REP Theatre. We would like to outline why the Sikh community objected to the use of Gurudwara (temple) and Sikh symbols in the play, measures taken by the Sikh community to negotiate an agreement with the REP Theatre/Miss Gurpreet Bhatti and details of the actual demonstrations that took place up to Saturday 18th December.



    Sikh Objections



    There has been a certain level of confusion and inaccuracy by the media as to the objections that Sikhs have for ‘Behzti’. A key point that needs to be outlined is that at no time during the discussions before the play was shown, or during the demonstrations was a request made for the play to be stopped. Also, the issue of rape, abuse, homosexuality and murder were also not objected to. This is a point which the Sikh community wish to make clear.



    They were two key objections that the Sikh community raised with the REP Theatre, the use and location of a Gurudwara (temple) and use of Sikh symbols within the play.



    Regarding the use of a Gurudwara (temple), this caused great offence due to the role that it plays within the daily life of Sikhs. There have been numerous occasions where during discussions, the Gurudwara (temple) has been equated to a church or other religious building. It is far more than a building within which worship takes place. Each Gurudwara (temple) is the home of the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, 11th Guru of the Sikhs. Therefore it is a place where Sikhs meet there Guru (teacher), it is the centrepiece of their daily life and the Sikh community at large.



    Regarding the use of Sikh symbols within the play, there were a number of occasions in the production where great disrespect was shown. On one occasion, the Sikh turban was placed on a shoe rack. This is greatly disrespectful, and some think which we feel the wider community do not understand or appreciate. The turban is the ‘crown’ of each Sikh and is regarded with the utmost respect, during the World War 1 & 2 Sikhs fought with the turbans on rather than helmets, that is the extent and respect which Sikhs have for the turban. Other examples include ?



    Negotiations with the REP Theatre



    Negotiations between the REP theatre and Sikh representatives took place in October 2004, over two months before the opening night of the production. The REP approached the Sikh community, which suggests that it acknowledged the fact that the production would cause offence. The Sikh representatives put forward their concerns regarding the use of a Gurudwara and Sikh symbols. They requested that Sikh symbols be removed from the play and the location of the Gurudwara be changed to an alternative venue. No request was made for the content of the play to be changed.



    The REP was not willing to make any concessions, other than the reading and distribution of a statement made by the Sikh community regarding the production and Sikh faith. This left the Sikh representatives dissatisfied.



    Mr Arun Arora (Director of Communications, Diocese of Birmingham 2000-04) in his letter to The Times states:



    ‘It was clear that the play had the capacity to cause serious offence. I made the playwright and the

    Rep aware of this and both sought to consult widely with the Sikh Community prior to staging the play.

    It is clear to me that no changes were made to the play after the consultation and I believe that the theatre

    underestimated the depth of reaction that the play clearly had the capacity to provoke. The issue is not

    free speech or censorship. Rather it is a matter of religious sensitivity and respect.’

    The Times, 22nd December 2004, p14





    Demonstrations leading up to the 18th December 2004



    Peaceful demonstrations began on the 9th December 2004 at the REP theatre Birmingham. Demonstrators gave out literature and were able to enter the REP theatre itself and talk to both representatives of the REP and members of the public. These peaceful demonstrations continued up until the 15th December 2004. It is a shame these demonstrations were not acknowledged by any of the local or national media.



    On the 15th December 2004 the demonstration had grown to approximately 130 participants. There were a number of discussion between protesters and members of the Police and REP theatre. It was highlighted that the number of protesters was increasing and frustration was growing. It was suggested that a compromise needed to be negotiated to resolve the matter. The Police agreed to examine their powers to identify if they could take any action against the production.



    On the 16th December 2004 the protests continued. They were approximately 15 protesters who were expecting a response from the Police based the discussions that took place the previous day. At 1.15pm protesters were issued notices under Section 3 of the Public Order Act stopping them from demonstrating outside the REP theatre as they had been doing. They were given a space away from the theatre within which to protest. This greatly frustrated the demonstrators. When protesters requested the right to be allowed to protest outside the REP theatre, the Police arrested three demonstrators aggressively (they were thrown to the floor and handcuffed by eight policemen). The men arrested were respected members of the Sikh community, some of whom were protesting with their young children. It was noted that the attitude of the Police was more aggressive and less co-operative. This was evident in the evening with a further arrest and more Police provocation.



    On the 17th December 2004 protesters continued to protest peacefully with no incidents taking place.





    Demonstration on 18th December 2004



    This was by far the largest protest so far with approximately 800 protesters, including men, women and children. This was due to the arrests that had taken place previously and wider awareness of the production. The protests began peacefully with prayer at 6.00pm.



    It was at approximately 7.30pm that certain protesters became violent. We wish to make it clear that we do not in any way condone the damage that was caused to the REP theatre or the conduct of certain protesters. However, they way in which the incident was portrayed by the media needs to bee addressed.



    To begin, the violence was committed by a small element of the protesters, not all. It lasted for a relatively short period of time, approximately 20 minutes. Three police men were injured, some windows were broken, there was damage to the foyer door and equipment and 800 people were evacuated. The media only focused on the negative elements of the protest, which as stated only lasted approximately 20 minutes. They did not try to examine why the protesters were frustrated, they did not mention the many days of peaceful protests, they did not mention the arrests that had taken place previously. They portrayed the Sikhs as violent thugs who had no appreciation for free speech or peaceful protesting. This is striking compared to the media coverage of the protests conducted by the Country side Alliance in London, when they were violent scenes between protesters and Police and five protesters stormed the Commons.



    Claire Gorst was a protester outside the REP Theatre on the 18th December and has provided the following account:



    ‘Most of the media have sensationalised the mood of the protest. I was there in the company of mothers,

    grandmothers and children. There was no atmosphere of malevolence and no anticipation of violence.

    What occurred was neither condoned nor incited by the Sikh community leaders. Most of us left without

    any knowledge that damage had been caused…the media must not be complicit in promoting the very

    misunderstanding that caused this controversy’

    The Times, 22nd December 2004, p14





    Cancellation of Behzthi at the REP Theatre



    Following the events of the 18th December 2004, a meeting was held on the 20th December 2004 between Sikh leaders, the Police and REP Theatre representatives. The REP was still unwilling to make the changes requested by the Sikh Community, therefore the Sikh leaders stated that the protests would continue. The protesters had increased in number and more Sikhs were expected to participate if the performance continued. Due to security fears (Sikh leaders could not guarantee the conduct of all people present at protests) the REP Theatre made the decision to stop the showing of Behzti over the Christmas period.



    The Sikh leaders accepted the decision, not as what they had wanted, but as the best and most ‘common sense’ decision based on current circumstances.



    Summary



    The events that have taken place over the last week have not beneficiated any party. As Sikhs we have been heavily and unfairly criticised by the media and public, who we feel do not have a full understanding of the Sikh objections to Bezthi, or the events that led up to the demonstration on the 18th December 2004. For a community that has prospered and excelled in every quarter of society for many decades, we feel it unfair and very damaging the way in which we are currently portrayed.



    We value and respect the right to freedom of expression and speech no less than any other community. In fact over 90,000 Sikhs died and over 110, 000 were wounded during World War 1 & 2 fighting for Britain to preserve these very rights.



    We do however feel it is an illusion, to argue that you can say whatever you like to whoever you want in today’s multi-cultural society and current political climate. There are certain laws and regulations which protect against religious, racial and sexual offences. The United Nations declaration on Human Rights is a universal statement which provides us with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This does not equate to freedom to offend and we do not feel that writers or artists should be exempt from this.



    We would also question the motives of both the writer and the REP Theatre in terms of the production of Bezthi. Why is that institutions such as the REP theatre continue to support and fund mediocre, sensationalist and provocative productions which simply demonise and portray Asian communities within a negative fashion. This is a very important issue which we feel needs to be addressed.



    It does appear that Sikhs have been used as a scapegoat under the argument of free speech and censorship. Recently the BBC withdrew its fictional cartoon Popetown, due to concerns raised by the Catholic Community. Stuart Murphy, the channels controller stated that the comic impact of Popetown would:



    "not outweigh the potential offence it will cause…There is a fine judgement line in comedy between the scurrilously funny and the offensive…I understand the world has changed since the series was originally commissioned and sympathise with the difficult decision the BBC has had to make."

    BBC Website





    It is clear that this whole issue is one that needs to be debated with a sensible and well balanced outcome. However the Sikh community would also like to state that it will continue to protect its faith and when required take appropriate lawful action.







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  4. drkhalsa

    drkhalsa
    Expand Collapse
    SPNer

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2004
    Messages:
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    Likes Received:
    54
    Statement regarding Behzthi



    The Sikh Community would like to outline the series of events that led up to the demonstration on Saturday 18th December outside the Birmingham REP Theatre. We would like to outline why the Sikh community objected to the use of Gurudwara (temple) and Sikh symbols in the play, measures taken by the Sikh community to negotiate an agreement with the REP Theatre/Miss Gurpreet Bhatti and details of the actual demonstrations that took place up to Saturday 18th December.



    Sikh Objections



    There has been a certain level of confusion and inaccuracy by the media as to the objections that Sikhs have for ‘Behzti’. A key point that needs to be outlined is that at no time during the discussions before the play was shown, or during the demonstrations was a request made for the play to be stopped. Also, the issue of rape, abuse, homosexuality and murder were also not objected to. This is a point which the Sikh community wish to make clear.



    They were two key objections that the Sikh community raised with the REP Theatre, the use and location of a Gurudwara (temple) and use of Sikh symbols within the play.



    Regarding the use of a Gurudwara (temple), this caused great offence due to the role that it plays within the daily life of Sikhs. There have been numerous occasions where during discussions, the Gurudwara (temple) has been equated to a church or other religious building. It is far more than a building within which worship takes place. Each Gurudwara (temple) is the home of the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, 11th Guru of the Sikhs. Therefore it is a place where Sikhs meet there Guru (teacher), it is the centrepiece of their daily life and the Sikh community at large.



    Regarding the use of Sikh symbols within the play, there were a number of occasions in the production where great disrespect was shown. On one occasion, the Sikh turban was placed on a shoe rack. This is greatly disrespectful, and some think which we feel the wider community do not understand or appreciate. The turban is the ‘crown’ of each Sikh and is regarded with the utmost respect, during the World War 1 & 2 Sikhs fought with the turbans on rather than helmets, that is the extent and respect which Sikhs have for the turban. Other examples include ?



    Negotiations with the REP Theatre



    Negotiations between the REP theatre and Sikh representatives took place in October 2004, over two months before the opening night of the production. The REP approached the Sikh community, which suggests that it acknowledged the fact that the production would cause offence. The Sikh representatives put forward their concerns regarding the use of a Gurudwara and Sikh symbols. They requested that Sikh symbols be removed from the play and the location of the Gurudwara be changed to an alternative venue. No request was made for the content of the play to be changed.



    The REP was not willing to make any concessions, other than the reading and distribution of a statement made by the Sikh community regarding the production and Sikh faith. This left the Sikh representatives dissatisfied.



    Mr Arun Arora (Director of Communications, Diocese of Birmingham 2000-04) in his letter to The Times states:



    ‘It was clear that the play had the capacity to cause serious offence. I made the playwright and the

    Rep aware of this and both sought to consult widely with the Sikh Community prior to staging the play.

    It is clear to me that no changes were made to the play after the consultation and I believe that the theatre

    underestimated the depth of reaction that the play clearly had the capacity to provoke. The issue is not

    free speech or censorship. Rather it is a matter of religious sensitivity and respect.’

    The Times, 22nd December 2004, p14





    Demonstrations leading up to the 18th December 2004



    Peaceful demonstrations began on the 9th December 2004 at the REP theatre Birmingham. Demonstrators gave out literature and were able to enter the REP theatre itself and talk to both representatives of the REP and members of the public. These peaceful demonstrations continued up until the 15th December 2004. It is a shame these demonstrations were not acknowledged by any of the local or national media.



    On the 15th December 2004 the demonstration had grown to approximately 130 participants. There were a number of discussion between protesters and members of the Police and REP theatre. It was highlighted that the number of protesters was increasing and frustration was growing. It was suggested that a compromise needed to be negotiated to resolve the matter. The Police agreed to examine their powers to identify if they could take any action against the production.



    On the 16th December 2004 the protests continued. They were approximately 15 protesters who were expecting a response from the Police based the discussions that took place the previous day. At 1.15pm protesters were issued notices under Section 3 of the Public Order Act stopping them from demonstrating outside the REP theatre as they had been doing. They were given a space away from the theatre within which to protest. This greatly frustrated the demonstrators. When protesters requested the right to be allowed to protest outside the REP theatre, the Police arrested three demonstrators aggressively (they were thrown to the floor and handcuffed by eight policemen). The men arrested were respected members of the Sikh community, some of whom were protesting with their young children. It was noted that the attitude of the Police was more aggressive and less co-operative. This was evident in the evening with a further arrest and more Police provocation.



    On the 17th December 2004 protesters continued to protest peacefully with no incidents taking place.





    Demonstration on 18th December 2004



    This was by far the largest protest so far with approximately 800 protesters, including men, women and children. This was due to the arrests that had taken place previously and wider awareness of the production. The protests began peacefully with prayer at 6.00pm.



    It was at approximately 7.30pm that certain protesters became violent. We wish to make it clear that we do not in any way condone the damage that was caused to the REP theatre or the conduct of certain protesters. However, they way in which the incident was portrayed by the media needs to bee addressed.



    To begin, the violence was committed by a small element of the protesters, not all. It lasted for a relatively short period of time, approximately 20 minutes. Three police men were injured, some windows were broken, there was damage to the foyer door and equipment and 800 people were evacuated. The media only focused on the negative elements of the protest, which as stated only lasted approximately 20 minutes. They did not try to examine why the protesters were frustrated, they did not mention the many days of peaceful protests, they did not mention the arrests that had taken place previously. They portrayed the Sikhs as violent thugs who had no appreciation for free speech or peaceful protesting. This is striking compared to the media coverage of the protests conducted by the Country side Alliance in London, when they were violent scenes between protesters and Police and five protesters stormed the Commons.



    Claire Gorst was a protester outside the REP Theatre on the 18th December and has provided the following account:



    ‘Most of the media have sensationalised the mood of the protest. I was there in the company of mothers,

    grandmothers and children. There was no atmosphere of malevolence and no anticipation of violence.

    What occurred was neither condoned nor incited by the Sikh community leaders. Most of us left without

    any knowledge that damage had been caused…the media must not be complicit in promoting the very

    misunderstanding that caused this controversy’

    The Times, 22nd December 2004, p14





    Cancellation of Behzthi at the REP Theatre



    Following the events of the 18th December 2004, a meeting was held on the 20th December 2004 between Sikh leaders, the Police and REP Theatre representatives. The REP was still unwilling to make the changes requested by the Sikh Community, therefore the Sikh leaders stated that the protests would continue. The protesters had increased in number and more Sikhs were expected to participate if the performance continued. Due to security fears (Sikh leaders could not guarantee the conduct of all people present at protests) the REP Theatre made the decision to stop the showing of Behzti over the Christmas period.



    The Sikh leaders accepted the decision, not as what they had wanted, but as the best and most ‘common sense’ decision based on current circumstances.



    Summary



    The events that have taken place over the last week have not beneficiated any party. As Sikhs we have been heavily and unfairly criticised by the media and public, who we feel do not have a full understanding of the Sikh objections to Bezthi, or the events that led up to the demonstration on the 18th December 2004. For a community that has prospered and excelled in every quarter of society for many decades, we feel it unfair and very damaging the way in which we are currently portrayed.



    We value and respect the right to freedom of expression and speech no less than any other community. In fact over 90,000 Sikhs died and over 110, 000 were wounded during World War 1 & 2 fighting for Britain to preserve these very rights.



    We do however feel it is an illusion, to argue that you can say whatever you like to whoever you want in today’s multi-cultural society and current political climate. There are certain laws and regulations which protect against religious, racial and sexual offences. The United Nations declaration on Human Rights is a universal statement which provides us with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This does not equate to freedom to offend and we do not feel that writers or artists should be exempt from this.



    We would also question the motives of both the writer and the REP Theatre in terms of the production of Bezthi. Why is that institutions such as the REP theatre continue to support and fund mediocre, sensationalist and provocative productions which simply demonise and portray Asian communities within a negative fashion. This is a very important issue which we feel needs to be addressed.



    It does appear that Sikhs have been used as a scapegoat under the argument of free speech and censorship. Recently the BBC withdrew its fictional cartoon Popetown, due to concerns raised by the Catholic Community. Stuart Murphy, the channels controller stated that the comic impact of Popetown would:



    "not outweigh the potential offence it will cause…There is a fine judgement line in comedy between the scurrilously funny and the offensive…I understand the world has changed since the series was originally commissioned and sympathise with the difficult decision the BBC has had to make."

    BBC Website





    It is clear that this whole issue is one that needs to be debated with a sensible and well balanced outcome. However the Sikh community would also like to state that it will continue to protect its faith and when required take appropriate lawful action.







    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     

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