An offensive act?

The issue of artists' freedom to scrutinise religion flared up again yesterday after the Birmingham Repertory Theatre cancelled a play following violent Sikh protests. But for any debate to be informed, it needs the facts. So here we publish the key scene from Behzti, the work at the centre of the furore
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The Independent Culture

Min is the frumpy daughter of Balbir Kaur. In this extract from Behzti - Dishonour ­ we find mother and daughter heading towards the local Sikh temple, the gurdwara, where Balbir is intent on marrying off Min with the help of Mr Sandhu. An apparently respectable local dignitary, he is reputed to keep a list of suitable local youths for the community's young women to wed. But he has a record of sexual abuse and rape. Two other women, Polly Dhodhar and Teetee Parmar, know of Mr Sandhu's vices but are complicit in concealing them ­ whatever the cost to Min.

Min is the frumpy daughter of Balbir Kaur. In this extract from Behzti - Dishonour ­ we find mother and daughter heading towards the local Sikh temple, the gurdwara, where Balbir is intent on marrying off Min with the help of Mr Sandhu. An apparently respectable local dignitary, he is reputed to keep a list of suitable local youths for the community's young women to wed. But he has a record of sexual abuse and rape. Two other women, Polly Dhodhar and Teetee Parmar, know of Mr Sandhu's vices but are complicit in concealing them ­ whatever the cost to Min.

TEETEE: Here comes the bride.

MIN: Mother ...

BALBIR: Not now ducks, we're talking about you, not to you!

She chuckles. MIN approaches BALBIR.

MIN: Please mother...

TEETEE and POLLY notice MIN's bloodstained shalwar (trousers).

I don't quite know how to speak this ...

POLLY: Cursed girls and ladies do not come to God's house at that time of the month!

MR SANDHU approaches from the distance, but remains unseen by MIN and BALBIR.

BALBIR: For shitter's sake ... stupid girl!

MR SANDHU makes sure that POLLY and TEETEE see him.

POLLY: You should not have brought this disrespectful buffalo here, Bhanji.

TEETEE: Is it your intention to insult God?

POLLY: So much behzti. Nasty filthy dog!

TEETEE: Maybe it is up to us to teach her, Pollyji. For all our sakes.

MIN: But it's not my time.

TEETEE and POLLY drag MIN over so that she has her back to BALBIR. They show her mother the stain.

POLLY: Look at your dishonourable daughter, Bhanji.

TEETEE: Importing her dirty monthly blood into the gurdwara.

MR SANDHU discreetly exits. The ladies hold MIN firmly by each arm as if she were a criminal.

MIN: I haven't. Honest to God I haven't...

POLLY: Liar, liar pants on fire.

BALBIR: There must be some explanation ... perhaps she has the excitement because of the wedding ...

MIN: There's something mother ... I have to say. Privately.

BALBIR: A bride has no secrets from her bacholan.

MIN: What?

BALBIR: My friends are also your mothers.

TEETEE: There are no excuses for this unwelcome patch of red.

MIN breaks away from the ladies, in acute distress.

MIN: Please. I don't know what to do.

TEETEE: You are all muddled up.

MIN: No ... I'm not...

TEETEE and POLLY move towards MIN.

BALBIR: Keep your eyes on the medal, Maninder. That bronze disc you so merit.

POLLY: Shut up Bhanji. You leave this to us.

MIN moves away from the ladies.

MIN: Stay away from me, you ... cows.

BALBIR: Maninder!

POLLY: Such filth is coming out of her mouth.

BALBIR: Do not be hard on her ... please ... she does not understand the ways of usual people.

TEETEE: Then it is our duty to explain ... what is required of her under this roof.

The ladies move closer to MIN. Frightened, she turns away from them, but they carry on a menacing advance towards her. Suddenly she makes a run for it, but POLLY swiftly grabs her. They tussle.

BALBIR: Min ... we must realise ... it is occasionally necessary to follow a series of twisty side roads before one gets onto the motorway.

TEETEE joins POLLY and they start to beat and kick MIN. She cries out in pain. TEETEE drags her over to BALBIR who is close to tears.

TEETEE: Your turn Bhanji ...

BALBIR: It may appear harsh, but there are some ways of the world that you and I have to understand ...

BALBIR weakly slaps MIN round the face.

To adhere to ...

She slaps her again.

To get used to ...

There are shouts of "gundhee kuthi" (dirty bitch) and "behsharam" (shameless) from the ladies as they continue to beat up MIN. MR SANDHU enters. TEETEE takes off her chooni (scarf) and gags MIN with it.

SANDHU: Stop this at once!

TEETEE and POLLY turn to face MR SANDHU.

We are not animals. Please try and maintain some decorum.

MIN remains on the floor, gagged, in a heap. MR SANDHU beholds her sadly.

All individuals make unforced errors.

BALBIR: Poor child, she has never recovered from the behzti of her father.

TEETEE: Must have inherited it.

POLLY: And you with your toilet trouble. None of it helps.

BALBIR: It doesn't.

SANDHU: I have a suggestion that may put a silver lining on this cloudy business.

MR SANDHU whispers in BALBIR's ear. TEETEE and POLLY bring MIN over to BALBIR and MR SANDHU.

MIN stands before them as though she is a pupil who has been sent to see the headmaster.

BALBIR: Dear Maninder, there is something ... there is the chance that something useful can emerge ...

MIN shakes her head vigorously.

All of a sudden my bladder feels full to the brim.

POLLY takes BALBIR's arm.

POLLY: Beerji, I fear her mummy's presence is fuelling her insolent manner.

SANDHU: Thank you for your kindness Polly Bhanji.

MIN makes desperate noises. POLLY leads BALBIR out. MIN'S getting increasingly upset. TEETEE unties the chooni.

MIN: (Screams) I want my mother!

TEETEE: First you have to apologise to Mr Sandhu.

MIN points at MR SANDHU.

MIN: He put himself inside me. (Indicates her vagina) Here ... and he felt me ...

TEETEE: You are expected to say sorry.

MIN: He knows what he did to me. And so do you. And so does God. And you can break every bone in my body and defile me further and bury me here and we'll all still know. Because that's what happened. That's the truth.

TEETEE: (Shouts) Just say it!

MR SANDHU starts to cry.

SANDHU: What is a man to do? Then again she cannot help being a temptress. Perhaps I am at fault for being so easily enticed.

MIN attempts to run out, but TEETEE restrains her. There is a struggle which eventually TEETEE wins. She holds MIN around her neck. She drags her back to face MR SANDHU.

TEETEE: Say sorry you buffalo!

MIN: I won't.

TEETEE: Do it!

MIN: Never. I never will.

TEETEE: Does Balbir Bhanji like pain?

MIN: No... you cow... no!

TEETEE: Does she like to be hit and punched and scratched and all her clothes taken off?

TEETEE pulls her hair hard. MIN starts to cry.

One little word.

MIN is in agony.

My sons will fuck her up the arse till she bleeds a river of blood.

MIN sobs.

Hurry up.

MIN: (Whispers) Sorry...

TEETEE releases MIN, she falls over in front of the desk. TEETEE goes over to SANDHU. Tearful and emotional, she spits on his feet.

TEETEE: She's yours.

TEETEE exits.

SANDHU: Are you hurt?

No response. MIN stares at the floor.

The first time there is bound to be some pain. It will get better.

Silence.

You remind me of him so much. I was unable to help myself. I adore you, you see ­ just as I loved your father. So damn madly. He was always scared of our passion. Embarrassed. And that's why he went the way he did. He broke my heart. But now he has come back to me, through you. (A beat) Would you like a sweetie?

MIN shakes her head.

Have this then.

He takes the BeeGees CD out of his pocket and hands it to her.

There is something I must ask you.

MIN looks up.

I just mentioned to your mother ... I was wondering if ... if ... you would like to marry me? When we are husband and wife there will be no need for all this.

Long silence.

MIN: (Slowly) You lied.

SANDHU: Why don't you take some time to think about it?

SANDHU goes to exit.

MIN: You've done this before haven't you?

SANDHU: Yes ... yes I have.

MR SANDHU exits. MIN beholds the CD. She attempts to hum 'Emotions' but cannot. The only noise that comes out of her mouth is atonal and off key. She tries to move about, but her stiff, tired body won't go anywhere or do anything. Exhausted, MIN slumps on to the floor. TEETEE comes back in.

TEETEE: (Gruff) Sometimes buffalo girl, you have to make a sacrifice. For the good of everyone, you realise?

No response.

You want some tea?

No response.

Sweet milky tea helps.

TEETEE goes to get the tea. BALBIR enters and approaches MIN.

BALBIR: Did he pop the question?

MIN nods.

And you are alright?

No response.

Was there something you wanted to tell me?

MIN: There's nothing.

BALBIR: Speak for shitter's sake.

MIN: Doesn't matter any more.

BALBIR: So you are happy to marry him?

No response. TEETEE comes back with a cup of tea for MIN.

I want you to be happy. Besides, he hasn't got much longer on this earth. You'll end up with the sort of bank balance that will attract a fine young specimen.

TEETEE eyes BALBIR coldly.

TEETEE: Quiet now Bhanji.

MIN: You have to sign Elvis' sheet mother.

BALBIR: I forgot about that shitter.

MIN takes the sheet out of her pocket. She struggles over to BALBIR and gives her the sheet, which BALBIR duly signs.

Yes, we will be alright now. Everything will be alright. You go and get things ready Maninder. I'll wait here.

MIN goes to exit. TEETEE holds out the cup of tea to her.

TEETEE: It's finished.

No response.

You'll be going home soon.

TEETEE reaches out to MIN. But MIN strikes her arm and the tea goes flying. MIN exits.

BALBIR: Forgive her, she has been a boil waiting to erupt.

TEETEE: She's braver than she looks.

BALBIR: Funny how things turn out. I, for one, was set on the list ... but such things do not allow for plain old-fashioned attraction. I didn't know she had it in her ... but perhaps she's more of a chip off the old block than I gave her credit for. Don't be perturbed by her demeanour. She's shocked I know, she's come over all strange... all because she can't believe her own bloddy bollocks. She came looking for a fish and caught a bloddy whale. Perhaps I'll be the one asking my son-in-law for his list.

TEETEE: (Flat) There is no list.

BALBIR: What?

TEETEE: No fucking list.

BALBIR: (Shocked) Bhanji?

TEETEE: You stupid old cow.

BALBIR: Of course there is a list. Mr Sandhu told me ... he talked to me ...

TEETEE: Did he ever show it to you?

BALBIR: No.

TEETEE: Did you ever ask to see it?

BALBIR shakes her head.

BALBIR: You're being silly.

TEETEE: It doesn't exist.

BALBIR: You're lying ... Teetee?

No response. BALBIR's getting more agitated.

Why would he say there was one when there wasn't?

What reason?

TEETEE: Why do you think?

BALBIR is paralysed with shock.

So that girls go up and see him. So he can force them.

And boys sometimes. He likes to rape people.

BALBIR: No he wouldn't ... he would never do that ... you said he is a gentleman...

TEETEE: I didn't.

BALBIR: You know he is ... we all know him ...

TEETEE: He did it to your girl.

BALBIR: You bloody liar. He loves Min and she will grow to love him. They fancy each other.

TEETEE: (Screams) Is that what you think of your daughter, you sick bitch?

BALBIR: Why are you doing this Teetee? Why are you saying such evilness?

TEETEE: It's true.

BALBIR: How do you know?

TEETEE: (Flat) Because he did it to me.

BALBIR takes this in.

Right over there.

TEETEE points to a corner.

BALBIR: No ... no ... this is not ... is not feasible ... you are trying to trick me and confuse me ...

TEETEE isn't listening. She points again. She speaks in a matter of fact fashion.

TEETEE: They stripped me first and covered my mouth. Then he bent me over and pulled my hair. He was young then so he had better control. Your Mr Sandhu went inside me and took what was human out of my body. My mother wept salty tears while she watched. Afterwards she beat me till I could not feel my arms or legs. Then she turned to me and said, now you are a woman, a lady. Now you are on your own, behsharam.

BALBIR: I told her to go in because he said there was a list.

TEETEE: They must have left you out Bhanji.

BALBIR: So you ... you stood by ... while I sent my Min ...

TEETEE: Yes...

BALBIR: But you ... you beat her ... you said she was at fault ...

TEETEE: I do my duty

BALBIR: You made me hit her.

TEETEE: You did that yourself.

BALBIR lunges at TEETEE. She misses her pathetically and lands on the floor.

BALBIR: (Fearful) It couldn't happen ... not before my eyes ... like this ...

TEETEE: It just did.

BALBIR: You let it ... you made it ...

TEETEE: I tried to warn you Bhanji.

BALBIR: You made me...

TEETEE: That's what passes.

BALBIR becomes breathless, it's as if she is having a panic attack.

I am sorry you were not aware.

TEETEE gets up to exit. Distressed, BALBIR shouts after her.

BALBIR: Where are you going?

TEETEE: Home. In a little while.

BALBIR: (Screams vehemently) This business isn't finished. You don't do that to my girl ... and just go home ... you don't ... you can't ...

TEETEE stands at exit. BALBIR crumbles.

(Despairing) What will happen to her now?

TEETEE: (Cold) Same as the rest of us ...

TEETEE exits. BALBIR breaks down. She cries out through her tears.

BALBIR: No. Never... never!

BALBIR sobs her heart out.

Reproduced with the permission of Oberon Books, www.oberonbooks.com

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