December 21st, 2004

life begins - me

To Censor or not to Censor?

Those of you in the UK will no doubt have heard of the uproar surrounding the play "Behtzi - Dishonour" which was being staged by the Birmingham Rep. The play was written by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, herself a Sikh woman, and has caused a huge amount of upset in portions of the Sikh community because the play includes scenes of rape and murder within a gurdwara (Sikh temple).

This has been declared as offensive to the Sikh religion and campaign groups were mounted to have it removed from the theatre's schedule. On Saturday the campaign turned to violence and the theatre was attacked - stones were thrown through the windows and staff were physically and verbally threatened.

Talks were in place all day yesterday to try to reach a compromise and by yesterday evening the Birmingham Rep had decided to cancel the play because the staff of the theatre's safety was in question. This morning, the Birmingham Theatre Company has announced it intends to show the play. I believe they are right next door to the Birmingham Rep but I'm not sure.

Yesterday the news channels spent a lot of time on this story, talking to representatives of all the major parties involved. A couple of things struck me as questionable about it, and they were all voiced by the Sikh campaign groups.

The first: an older man made the comment (and I'm paraphrasing because I didn't think to write this down at the time) that 'if scenes like this were being shown as being in a Christian church it would be banned automatically.'

Uh, no. "Murder in the Cathedral" comes to my mind instantly and I’m sure there are lots of other examples.

I haven't seen "Behtzi", chances are fairly good I won't get to see it for a while if ever, but it seems that the biggest issue is the fact that the scenes take place within the temple rather than that the scenes take place at all.

The second point is this, another older man said he believed the writer should be able to write what she wanted, just not this.


Basically he is saying that she can write whatever she wants so long as it falls under his approval. Again I say, huh?

I don't agree with censorship. I am a firm believer in freedom of expression, we live in a democracy, part of that is the right to make a stand, to say what we want without fear of persecution. However there is also the question of religious tolerance and freedom from harassment.

So I wondered, what do you guys think of this? Should the play be cancelled? Should the writer (and director and performers) be able to show whatever they want on stage no matter who it offends? (Not just this play, but all works that are likely to insult a sector of society?) Has PC gone too far?

Thoughts? Comments?