Great piece by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti on her play's banning in today's
This warrior is fighting on
I am proud to be a Sikh, and my play is both respectful to Sikhism and
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Thursday January 13, 2005
As a writer I lead a quiet life, so nothing could have prepared me for the
furore and intense media interest of the past few weeks. I am still trying
to process everything that's happened - my play, Behzti, has been cancelled;
I've been physically threatened and verbally abused by people who don't know
me; and my family has been harassed and I've had to leave my home.
I have chosen not to speak until now, but not because I have been frightened
into silence. Dealing with the practical issues around my own safety and
that of those close to me has been my priority.
Firstly, I have been deeply angered by the upset caused to my family, and I
ask people to see sense and leave them alone.
I am very grateful for the overwhelming support I have received nationally
and internationally from the artistic world, from fellow Sikhs and many
others. At a time when the power of words is under the closest scrutiny,
please know that your words have kept my spirit strong.
My play and the foreword to it are in the public domain, and I
whole-heartedly stand by my work. I was very saddened by the decision to
stop the play but accepted that the theatre had no alternative when people's
safety could not be assured. Contrary to some reports, nothing in Behzti was
ever altered as a result of pressure from anyone. As any drama practitioner
knows, new writing evolves during rehearsal, and any changes made were
simply part of the usual creative process between writer, director and
actors. Nor, as has been suggested, did I ever veto any attempts to restage
Behzti. And I will, when the time is right, discuss the play's future with
The closing of the play has triggered a series of timely and valuable
discussions. However, there can never be any excuse for the demonisation of
a religion or its followers. The Sikh heritage is one of valour and victory
over adversity. Our ancestors were warriors with the finest minds who
championed principles of equality and selflessness. I am proud to come from
this remarkable people and do not fear the disdain of some, because I know
my work is rooted in honesty and passion. I hope bridges can be built, but
whether this prodigal daughter can ever return home remains to be seen.
Unfortunately the contents of Behzti seem to have been taken out of context
by many. Surely it is only by reading or seeing the whole thing that anyone
can usefully comment on the decisions made and on the play's merits or
I certainly did not write Behzti to offend. It is a sincere piece of work in
which I wanted to talk about what is beneath the surface of triumph - all
that is anonymous, despairing, human, inhumane and absurd - and to explore
how human frailties can lead people into a prison of hypocrisy.
For a story to be truly universal, I think it is important to start with
what is specific. Though the play is set in a gurdwara, its themes are not
just about Sikhism, and I hope that a person of any faith, or indeed of no
faith, could relate to its subject matter. I feel that the choice of setting
was crucial and valid for the story I wanted to tell and, in my view, the
production was respectful to Sikhism. It is only a shame that others have
not had the chance to see it and judge for themselves.
Religion and art have collided for centuries, and will carry on doing battle
long after my play and I are forgotten. The tension between who I am, a
British-born Sikh woman, and what I do, which is write drama, is at the
heart of the matter. These questions of how differences in perspective and
belief are negotiated in Britain today will, I hope, continue to bring about
a lively and vital debate.
I believe that it is my right as a human being and my role as a writer to
think, create and challenge. The dramatists who I admire are brave. They
tell us life is ferocious and terrifying, that we are imperfect, and only
when we face our imperfections truthfully can we have hope. Theatre is not
necessarily a cosy space, designed to make us feel good about ourselves. It
is a place where the most basic human expression - that of the imagination -
must be allowed to flourish.
As for the threats and hate mail, these have stirred only tolerance and
courage within me. My faith remains strong, and I pray that these days pass
peacefully, that my life will normalise and that I can get back to working
on my other commissions for theatre and television. Finally, I want to pay
tribute to the Birmingham Rep, which has supported my work for the past six
years, and to the show's fantastic cast and crew, who showed great fortitude
under the most oppressive conditions. You can all rest assured - this
warrior will not stop fighting.
© Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
·Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti is the author of Behzti, which closed after protests
at the Birmingham Rep last month
Editor, Masthead: http://masthead.net.au
Home page: http://alisoncroggon.com