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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 December, 2004, 17:32 GMT
Theatre attacks Sikh play protest
Police at Birmingham REP
Five police officers were hurt and two people arrested
A Birmingham theatre has condemned a violent demonstration against a play which has angered the Sikh community.

Several police officers were hurt and two people were arrested during the protest against Behzti - a play about sex abuse and murder in a Sikh temple.

Hundreds of Sikhs gathered outside Birmingham Repertory Theatre and a few tried to storm their way in, forcing Saturday's show to be halted.

Managers said they deplored "the illegal actions of some protesters".

The theatre has taken the lead in consulting with community members about the play over the last few months
Birmingham Rep

Talks will now be held between the police, theatre managers and community leaders on Monday to try to resolve the dispute which turned violent at 1845 GMT on Saturday evening.

Behzti (Dishonour), written by Sikh playwright Gurpreet Bhatti, has a scheduled run at the theatre until the end of December and explores issues of sexual abuse, manipulation and relationships inside a Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship.

The theatre says it is a work of fiction and makes no comment about Sikhism as a faith or its followers in general.

It said short of "blatant censorship" and cancelling the production, it could not have done more to appease the Sikh community.

"The theatre has taken the lead in consulting with community members about the play over the last few months and, as a result, several changes were made to the show before it went into production," a spokeswoman added.

"The theatre also invited the Sikh community to write a statement expressing its views on the play and this has both been given to every audience member and also read out in the auditorium before each performance."

Mohan Singh, a local Sikh community leader
Sikh community leader Mohan Singh (centre) says feelings are running high
But Mohan Singh, a local Sikh community leader, said: "When they're doing a play about a Sikh priest raping somebody inside a gurdwara, would any religion take it?"

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, said the play was offensive to people of all faiths.

"The right to freedom of expression has corresponding duties to the common good.

"Such a deliberate, even if fictional, violation of the sacred place of the Sikh religion demeans the sacred places of every religion."

The theatre said more than 800 people had to be evacuated, security guards were attacked and thousands of pounds' worth of damage was caused.

A foyer door was destroyed, windows were broken in a restaurant and demonstrators smashed equipment backstage.

A spokeswoman added: "95% of the people evacuated were families and children who had come to see our Christmas show The Witches or to attend Christmas parties in our hospitality suites."

'Respect public'

Supt Russell Smith, from West Midlands Police, said: "Our stance is to enable people to make a peaceful protest.

"But they have to respect the public and they have to respect the people who want to actually attend."

The MP for Perry Barr, Birmingham, Khalid Mahmood, said: "This whole thing is very unfortunate, particularly in a place like Birmingham, where we've enjoyed a huge amount of religious and racial integration."

Theatre stormed in Sikh protest
19 Dec 04 |  West Midlands

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