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Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK

World: South Asia

Protests close Gandhi play

Protesters burn leaflets about the play outside the theatre

Indian police have beaten violent protesters who were demanding an end to the showing of a controversial play at a theatre in Bombay.

The demonstrators say the play denigrates independence leader Mahatma Gandhi by glorifying the gunman who killed him.

[ image: Mahatma Gandhi - still revered in India]
Mahatma Gandhi - still revered in India
About 200 demonstrators, many supporters of the Congress Party, blocked the Shivaji Mandir Auditorium in Dadar and smashed the windows of some buses near the theatre.

Some of the protesters received minor injuries in the police charge that followed.

But the protest succeeded where the advice of the government failed in getting the play off the stage.

The producers have indefinitely called off performances of the piece, which had been playing to packed houses.

On Thursday, MPs called for the adminsistrators of Maharashtra state to ban the play, but the state government made no decision on the issue.

Maharashtra's Minister of Culture, Pramod Navalkar, who had planned to see the play's for the first time on Friday, said he would now read the script before making a final decision on its future.

Some local theatre buffs feel aggrieved.

"It is up to me to make up my mind about a play," said Prakash Patel, holding a ticket for Friday's performance.

"Gandhi will always be a great person in India, despite any play."

Gandhi's killer explored

Gandhi, known as the Mahatma or "great soul", was killed at a prayer meeting on 30 January 1948, sending waves of revulsion through the country.

Generations of Indians have grown up reviling his assassin.

The play focuses on the views of the killer, Nathuram Godese, and detractors say it paints a favourable and heroic picture of him.

Godse, a Hindu fanatic, was hanged for Gandhi's assassination five months after independence from Britain.

The play 'Nathuram Godse speaks' (Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy) has been described in parliament by the opposition Congress Party as falsifying the country's history.

The Congress Party was led by Gandhi before Indian independence.

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