When Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding in 1989, writers in the United States rushed to his defense, flooding him with letters of solidarity, publishing op-eds, and demonstrating in the streets. So far, apart from strong statements in the British press by Rushdie himself, who currently resides in New York, there’s been little public outcry here in support of the playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, who went underground in England in December after receiving death threats in response to her play Behzti (Dishonor). The play’s run in Birmingham was canceled last month in the face of violent protests by members of Britain’s Sikh community, who objected to scenes of rape, murder, and corruption set in a Sikh temple.
The New York theater community has not yet issued any formal statements of support, though local artists have expressed their concern. The South Asian Women’s Creative Collective listserv, for example, was burning up for about two weeks with discussion of Bhatti’s plight, according to member Priyanka Mathew, who will be producing a festival of plays by South Asian diaspora writers in June. “We agreed Gurpreet’s play is not a comment on Sikhism itself,” she says, drawing a comparison to American dramas that address the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, such as John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. Given that America’s South Asian community is smaller and newer than England’s, Mathew says, there’s more openness here. No one is complaining, for instance, about Paul Knox’s Gehri Dosti, five short plays with gay South Asian themes currently being presented by Circle East. “The community has been very supportive,” says Knox. Adds Mathew, “Gurpreet’s play might get a tough reaction. But I’m sure there are people who would like to bring her work to New York.”