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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 11:33 GMT
Author defends Sikh protest play
Poster for Behzti
Behzti is Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's second play
A British writer forced into hiding after violent protests by Sikhs led to the cancellation of her play has broken her silence and defended her work.

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti has received death threats over her play Behzti, depicting rape and murder in a Sikh temple.

Ms Bhatti said parts of the show had been taken out of context, and added: "I wholeheartedly stand by my work."

Birmingham Repertory Theatre cancelled the production last month after around 400 protesters stormed the venue.

Three police officers were hurt in clashes with the demonstrators.

Ms Bhatti said: "I was very saddened by the decision to stop the play but accepted that the theatre had no alternative when people's safety could not be assured."

'Deeply angered'

She added: "As a writer I lead a quiet life, so nothing could have prepared me for the furore and intense media interest of the past few weeks.

"I've been physically threatened and verbally abused by people who don't know me. My family has been harassed and I've had to leave my home.

"I have been deeply angered by the upset caused to my family and I ask people to see sense and leave them alone."

Whether this prodigal daughter can ever return home remains to be seen
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Ms Bhatti said she had not intended to offend, and that she felt the play was "respectful" to Sikhism.

"I am proud to come from this remarkable people and do not fear the disdain of some, because I know my work is rooted in honesty and passion," she said.

"I hope bridges can be built, but whether this prodigal daughter can ever return home remains to be seen.

"Unfortunately the contents of Behzti seem to have been taken out of context by many.

"Surely it is only by reading or seeing the whole thing that anyone can usefully comment on the decisions made and the play's merits or flaws?"


She said that since the play's cancellation she had received messages of support from other artists, fellow Sikhs and many other people across the world.

More than 1,000 actors, writers and directors, including Prunella Scales, poet laureate Andrew Motion and Willy Russell, signed a petition condemning the violent response to Behzti.

As for the threats and hate mail - these have stirred only tolerance and courage within me
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti

"At a time when the power of words is under the closest scrutiny, please know that your words have kept my spirit strong," Ms Bhatti said.

"As for the threats and hate mail - these have stirred only tolerance and courage within me.

"My faith remains strong and I pray that these days pass peacefully, that my life will normalise and that I can get back to working."

She also said she had not vetoed an offer to stage the play at the nearby Birmingham Stage Company.

The theatre's Neal Foster said he was "bewildered" because he had been told by the Birmingham Repertory that Ms Bhatti did not want the play restaged because of increased concerns about her safety.

"The Birmingham Stage Company remains willing to organise nationwide readings, should she wish it," Mr Neal said.

"It remains our position that no play should be closed because of violence or threat of violence."


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