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