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".
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Professor Gurharpal Singh has criticised both the protestors against the play for promoting an outdated view of Sikhs and the establishment promotion of religion in public life as ignoring internal tensions in communities and stifling dissent.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.
Perspective: Your views on Behzti; Extracts from a few of the letters we have received over the controversy at Birmingham Rep.(Features)
Dec 23, 2004; Byline: ANDREW KEEN Dear Editor, - Being a very regular theatre goer for 40 years I was lucky recently to see Behzti at...
I Have Nothing to Fear, My Work Is Honest; Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti Has Been Living in Fear, Unable to Speak in Public and Forced into Hiding since Her Controversial Play Behzti Sparked Riots When It Was Staged at the Birmingham Rep. Here She Breaks Her Silence to Tell How the Furore Has Changed Her Life, Career and Hopes
Jan 14, 2005; Byline: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti As a writer I lead a quiet life, so nothing could have prepared me for the furore and intense media...
Playwright Won't Let Sleeping Mobs Lie; Behzti after Death Threats and Protests, the Playwright Behind Is Back with a New Play. She Speaks to Lorne Jackson
Mar 18, 2010; Byline: Lorne Jackson your imagination, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti arrives alone and unarmed for our interview in London. There is no...
Disgraceful - or Sensible? the Decision by the Rep to Cancel Behzti Has Been Welcomed and Vilified in Equal Measure. Here Various Luminaries Have Their Say
Dec 21, 2004; Helen Cross, novelist and playwright, and author of My Summer of Love, on which a successful recent film was based, who reviewed...