Behzti (in Punjabi, Dishonour) is a play written by the British Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. The play became the centre of a major controversy in the United Kingdom in December 2004 when the opening night was disrupted by a riot at the Birmingham Rep theatre. The play was eventually cancelled.

The controversy was caused by a particular scene in the play, which is set in a Gurdwara (Sikh temple), that included scenes of rape, physical abuse and murder. Some members of the Sikh community held that the themes of the play (and in particular its setting) were deeply offensive to the Sikh faith. The opening night (December 18, 2004) was cancelled when hundreds of protesters gathered around the theatre, with three people being arrested following acts of criminal damage to the theatre.

On December 20, 2004, after an emergency meeting of the theatre management, and negotiations involving the local Sikh community, West Midlands Police and the Commission for Racial Equality, the Birmingham Repertory decided to cancel the play.

The Sikh protesters, many of whom say they do not support the violence of a minority, claim they would be happy to see minor changes in the script so that the play was not set in a Sikh temple. Sewa Singh Mandha, chairman of the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras in Birmingham, stated: "In a Sikh temple, sexual abuse does not take place, kissing and dancing don't take place, rape doesn't take place, homosexual activity doesn't take place, murders do not take place".

Responses to cancellation of play

Supporters of the play say the play's cancellation was an affront to freedom of speech. More than 700 arts figures, including Prunella Scales, Tariq Ali, Terry Jones, Andrew Motion, Jude Kelly, Richard Eyre, Ayub Khan Din, Willy Russell, Jonathan Coe, Sheila Hancock, Timothy West, and Samuel West signed a letter in support of the playwright. The letter read, in part, "We all have the right to protest peacefully if a work of art offends us. We do not have the right to use violence and intimidation to prevent that work of art from being seen by others.".

The episode closely followed the murder of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch film-maker killed for making a film judged to be critical of Islam. The following month, Christian groups publicly protested against the BBC screening the controversial musical Jerry Springer - The Opera.

Dr Jasdev Singh Rai criticised the play and the debate around the play as sensationalist and masking colonial attitudes towards ethnic minorities.

Professor Gurharpal Singh has criticised both the protestors against the play for promoting an outdated view of Sikhs and the establishment promotion of religion in public life as ignoring internal tensions in communities and stifling dissent.

Behzti served to re-ignite the debate as to what extent it is possible to reconcile respect for religious sensibilities and the preservation of freedom of speech in the increasingly secular societies of modern Europe. At the time, the UK government was proposing the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, which included controversial legislation outlawing the incitement of religious hatred.

The play has been since translated into French by Rudi Bekaert, staged-read in Brussels in November 2005, produced in Belgium and France in October-December 2006, and is published (in French) by the theatre publisher Les Solitaires intempestifs.

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