The show, Behzti, by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, depicts a rape and a murder in a Sikh temple. It provoked riots outside the theatre by hundreds of angry Sikhs, until the theatre agreed to cancel the rest of the play’s run. The cancellation has, of course, sparked a widespread debate about the potential curbing of freedom of speech principles. Other theatres are reportedly considering staging the play and some are considering coordinated rehearsed readings of it (the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Bush and Royal Court in London are among those known to be considering this plan) as a protest against the incident.
On Dec. 22, the Commission for Racial Equality and Arts Council England announced talks for early in 2005. According to the Guardian newspaper, the CRE chairman, Trevor Philips, has said that the summit plans to bring together community, artistic and cultural leaders to discuss what to do in the future when a work of art causes offence. “It’s not an attempt to lay limits to free speech or artistic expression,” he told the paper, “but to find a way of talking that does not involve bricks going through people’s windows.”
Meanwhile, playwright Bhatti is in hiding. Reports say that she is in fear of her life, though she plans to make a public statement soon.