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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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