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Behzti Protesters May Not Represent All Sikhs

Hanne Stinson is executive director of the British Humanist Association in London, U.K.

The Independent, Dec. 23, 2004

Photo: Behzti (Dishonor)

Sir: A Sikh woman writes a play which, according to reports, is popular with young Sikh women, perhaps because the issues it raises are important for them. Other Sikhs, nearly all male, protest violently outside the theatre, claiming that the play is offensive to Sikhs. The theatre backs down and cancels further performances, while the playwright, fearing for her life, goes into hiding.

So were these violent demonstrations outside the theatre in Birmingham about an insult to strongly held religious beliefs? Or were they about suppressing dissident voices, and especially women's voices, within the Sikh community?

It is all too easy to assume that faith communities are homogeneous and to forget that religious and community leaders, mostly male, may not be speaking for the whole community. We, and indeed the Government, need to make sure that we also hear the voices of the more integrated and progressive elements within ethnic and religious minorities, including the voices of women.