Indians furious at Jay Leno joke on Sikhism’s holiest shrine

January 24, 2012

By Ariana Wardak

American host Jay Leno has sparked anger among Sikhs with a joke about their holiest shrine and the Indian government is making its displeasure known.

In his ‘Tonight Show’ last week, the comedian poked fun at the wealth of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, suggesting that Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, was his vacation home.

A complaint against Leno will be officially filed by India’s ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, after 2,000 people signed an online petition.

“The Right to Speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution excludes defamation and spreading hate, incitement and false advertising,” the petition urged.

Leno’s Golden Temple jibe comes just as India is juggling with another clash between religious sensitivities and freedom of speech.

On Tuesday, the Jaipur Literature Festival cancelled a video-link speech by author Salman Rushdie just minutes before it was scheduled to begin, after death threats to the organisers and fears of violent riots at the event by Muslim groups. Rushdie, whose 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” is banned in India, last week cancelled plans to travel to Jaipur to address the festival in person after reported assassination threats against him.

Leno is the second Western TV personality to have drawn Indian ire this year. Last month, India’s High Commission in London complained to the British government that the BBC’s tongue-in-cheek car show Top Gear had ridiculed India and its culture.

While British Prime Minister David Cameron said he “did not like” the show and had “utmost respect” for Indians”, the U.S. government has called Leno’s remarks “satirical”.

“I think that Leno would be appreciative if we make the point that his comments are constitutionally protected in the United States under free speech and, frankly, they appeared to be satirical in nature,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The spate of flaps has prompted some to suggest the Indian government and its people are over-sensitive, and need to get a sense of humour.

(Interact with Ariana at @arianawardak )


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The US government’s response to India’s complaint re Jay Leno is quite correct. On the other hand, David Cameron’s simpering response is to be expected. India is one of the countries to which Britain is in serioous hock. And this is likely to be the case for the forseeable future. Indians receive ‘sacred cow’ treatment in the UK and that is as it should be- chickens coming home to roost, you know.

Posted by YolandeM | Report as abusive

Simply ridiculous reaction.
Never talk about India or Indians, whatever you say, it will certainly “hurt the sentiments” of someone!
Ignore that country for your own sake.

Posted by merabharat | Report as abusive

Enough of this already. First, the Muslims putting everyone on guard on what they can say (or think), and now this political correctness garbage! This is NOT hate speech. To those who bust veins on their forehead about this – stop being childish. I think it is time to push back all these whiners and stop these frivolous claims in their tracks. Don’t be intimidated by whining minorities. Way to go, Jay. Great publicity for you that money can’t buy! Never back down!

Posted by Elvis_Presley | Report as abusive

Someone’s taking the joke too far…

Posted by MetalHead8 | Report as abusive

Sadly things have not changed.
When I exhibited with M.F Hussain in Mumbai in 2008/9, unfortunately his works were removed too because of threats to the organizers .
How unfortunate .


Posted by cananda2 | Report as abusive

Lets look at it seriously & impartially.It was a small stil and a passing joke , that I, as a Sikh would have not taken much notice of in ordinary times. But given current times find it easy to single out Sikhs and associate them with the taliban and then take pot shots at them, in the course having killed a number ; then shows the dangerous aspects of this so called jokes! The ingrained racist mentality of the Americans does not help them from exposing their own true picture instead of trying to rationalise it fairly.

However, what I have found VERY concerning is the manner in which the INDIAN government has jumped into the affray and made a mountain out of the molehill.Yet this is the SAME government of India that has protected the culprits responsible for the MASS SIKH GENOCIDE of 1984 and pretends it never happened.This is the same Goverment that remained absolutely silent on the issue of the turban in France and Italy, or perhaps offered lip service.However , in this matter it has flapped its wings so wildly that I have become very suspicious of its honesty and intentions.But sadly, most Sikhs remain oblivion to that fact, and are shouting hurt! What most have failed to realise is that should this whole matter go wrong for the Sikhs, it is not India that will have to pick up the pieces, but the Sikh community of US.

It is also very well exposed that when I made jokes of the Americans, THEY TOO failed to see the humour they are so busy suggesting that Sikhs should see.One should have seen the limited moronic vocabulary with open racist jibes they were throwing and suddenly the humour was lost, when the shoes were firmly on the other foot.Reminding the Americans, US too has been partcipant in large scale genocides of nations and people suddenly lost the lustre of the jokes they so much enjoy!

WHAT level headed Sikhs are asking is that be sensitive and do not offer any more ammunition to the racist thugs who blindly associate Sikhs with taliban and use such humour to energise themselves to then take pot shots at Sikhs going about their legitimate business in the states.

Secondly, I don’t think Jay should have associated a house of prayers with the dirty elections of the US.Religion is above politics, but he connacted the two together quite ignorantly.He had no right to do that.

The matter does not appear to abate currently, Jay and NBC silenence , suggests perhaps they have belatedly realised their folly; but do not know how to rectify the situation, without loosing their “face” as they say in Mandarin.Sikhs respect and adore the 1st ammendment, but in such sensitive period where racist thugs exist, every decent person has to excercise responsbility and sensibility, taking into consideration that there different cultures etc around.US’s pot of honey can never be everybody’s pot of honey; it may be poison to others! As Sikhs have been victims of racist shootings, one cannot blame them for the way they have reacted, and as world’s policeman, US has responsibilty to bring this to an amicable closure without futher prolonging the matter.As much as I appreciate the UK lawmakers, I think it is best if they help heal the matter for all, rather than complicate it.I wonder how long can we discuss this matter civilly withoutthe racists again taking bait and starting their jibes.Asking anyone to be sensible in tuberlent times is not curtailing anyone’s right to free speech, it has be two way respected and accepted.

Posted by GurcharanSingh | Report as abusive

What Great Parliment doesn’t realize is that the US is no longer a colonynofn theirs. I am Irish Catholic and we are made fun of in England everyday. Let’s face reality. England is the United States largest colony and has no right to dictate to any country, let alone the US. England needs to get a life. As far as the India Indians go, the same goes for them!


Posted by Highlanderca | Report as abusive

It is just bad manners and arrogance of Jay. Be a good little boy and apologise.

Posted by WJL | Report as abusive

I feel the Indian people misunderstand. The joke was on the american politician and in this reference he used the temple as an obvious compliment. It is obviously not true and that is why it can be seen as funny.

Put another way… This temple is so grand and no one person would be deserving of vacationing there but if anyone could.. this politicain spends so much money maybe he would think himself worthy?

does that make sense?

Posted by emkay4597 | Report as abusive