She needed police protection after her play about a rape in a Sikh temple was axed mid-run. The playwright talks about the extraordinary upbringing that drives her
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti was a bright, young playwright when life ambushed her art. She had just staged her second play, Behzti, which featured the rape of a young woman in a gurdwara, a place of worship, when some British Sikhs took affront. Protests turned into riots, and the hysteria rose to such a fever pitch that the Birmingham Repertory theatre caved in and closed Behzti in the middle of its run.
It is rare for British authors to be forced to go to ground. It happened to Salman Rushdie in 1989 after a fatwa was issued over The Satanic Verses. When it happened to Bhatti, in December 2004, police put bars on the windows of her flat and installed CCTV cameras outside it. As in Rushdie’s case, several ironies emerged amid the public outrage: some protesters hadn’t seen the play; others mistook it for a film. Behzti’s themes had been inspired by personal experience, but Bhatti was variously accused of sacrilege and betraying her community.
Someone once said to me: You grew up in an Ibsen play
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