You might remember in 2004 a play by a young British-based Sikh playwright,Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, which was called off amidst protests by the Sikh community. Behzti (meaning 'dishonour/shame') included scenes of rape and violence in a 'gurdwara' (a Sikh place of worship) and was the subject of protests outside the Birmingham theatre were it had been playing. The play became the work of art of the day to be used in the 'censorship versus free speech' debate much akin to the debate caused by Rushdie's Satanic Verses. And we look set to head that way again.
Bhatti has now penned her next play, Behud ('beyond belief') which is a fictional examination of the whole Behzti affair. Good idea, in a inter-textual sort of way - she is obviously a clever woman though she seems to have suffered a hard time since being targeted by zealots. I totally come down on the side of free speech (as long as it's not inciting violence against anyone of course, in which case you need to apply some boundaries) especially in a work of art depicting the little-talked about suffering of a group (ie. the subjects in the play who suffered the abuse) and deplored the mob displays by the hot-heads outside the theatre. You can read more about Bhatti and her new play in a Guardian piece which appeared last Monday, but for now she sounds defiant: 'I'm part of the community, and they're part of me. But I put myself in the firing line, and it looks as if that's where I'm staying."
Behud is at the Belgrade, Coventry (0247 655 3055), 27 March–10 April; then at the Soho Theatre, London (0207 478 0100), 13 April–8 May.
Also, on 17 & 26 April, 1 & 3 May at Soho Theatre there will be:
"A series of FREE talks and debates, exploring freedom of expression in British theatre today. A collaboration between Soho Theatre, leading magazine Index on Censorship, English PEN and Free Word, the UK’s first centre for literature, literacy and free expression. Speakers include: Lisa Goldman, Julia Farrington (Head of Arts & Events, Index on Censorship), Jonathan Heawood (Director, English PEN) and Shreela Ghosh (FreeWord)."