The police officer didn’t laugh

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti is back, after almost ten years.

The last time I was at the Birmingham Rep, I was advised by West Midlands police to leave the building. Protests against my play Behzti (Dishonour) were becoming increasingly heated and I was told I was in danger. I arrived home in London, and hours later a police officer called to inform me of a threat to abduct and murder me. I laughed in disbelief. He didn’t laugh; he told me to get out of my flat.

The next day, after a huge demonstration outside the theatre, the Rep pulled the play. I was devastated. As the author I felt strongly that I had placed myself in the firing line, that I could and should endure the venom of the protesters. But when the Rep cancelled Behzti, it shattered me.

All because her play made “the Sikh community” look less than perfect.

My experience showed me that freedom of expression is precious, both as a gift and a right. When it is taken away, there is nothing left but abject, depressing silence. The only way of filling the void is to create anew. If artistic institutions honestly want brave work, then they must do as artists do – overcome fear in order to say what others cannot and will not, whatever the cost.

I passionately agree with the principle but have no idea if I would be able to perform it in practice. Hats off to Bhatti.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    It is a real eye-opener to look up ANY religious group that paints itself in the most glowing of accolades, only with “ex” in front of the religion name, like “ex bahai”. But I’m not finding any similar source for former Sikhs to voice THEIR perspective! This is very peculiar…the only sites seem to be former Sikhs who have either converted to Christianity or “reverted” to Islam. “sikh apostate” gets a bunch of hits, though.

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    As I recall, the outrage was that the play showed crimes being committed IN a temple. Since the ‘Behzti’ riots, there have been temple murders and sex scandals within 50 miles of my house.

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