The Jay Leno Controversy and Golden Temple


By Triveni Sharma: Jay Leno, a comedian host of the late-night ‘Tonight Show’ on the NBC Channel, joked about a rich businessman and politician, Mitt Romney who is making news these days for accretion wealth and dodging rightful taxes on his show. He made fun about Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s summer home by comparing it to the Harmandir Sahib(famous Golden Temple), a sacred Sikh temple.

The joke was due to Romney’s tax returns being published, stating that he was set to only pay a 15.4% tax on $20.8 million of income in 2011. The comedian host Jay Leno showed a picture of the Sikh’s Golden temple in Amritsar, India, which is the holiest place in the Sikh religion and added a commentary saying “Here’s a look at Mitt Romney’s summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee.” The spectators at the time responded with ovation and hilarity.

Though the joke was intended for at Romney’s vast wealth but Jay Leno’s use of Darbar Sahib to make his point has outraged many Sikhs here and abroad, and has grabbed extraordinary and unexpected media attention in India. Major Indian news channels reported this joke, with many Indian politicians expressing their hostilities and aggression on using the photo of Golden Temple. However, for number of audience (non-Sikh) the muffle was undisruptive riff on Romney’s immense wealth, but a number of Sikhs were not pleased and entertained by this act of Jay Leno.

Indian officials said that it was a big concern of Jay Leno’s remarks about Amritsar’s Golden Temple with the US authorities and observed that most of the late night shows in America are “dismissive and flippant.”

Indians are extremely aggravated and annoyed that their holiest place of pilgrimage was compared to a rich and luxurious palace of a Politician Mitt Romney. They raised their voice and their concern to NBC. The Sikhs who are dissenting and launching the plead against Jay Leno said that this is not the first time Leno makes jokes about their religion but in 2007, he called Sikhs ‘diaper heads.’

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His comments have resulted in an anger and rage in the small but strong Sikh community there. They have launched an online petition against Jay Leno and started a Facebook page to put across their anger against the television host. Many Indian across the world liked the page and showed their rage towards the host.

Dalbeg Singh, a top Sikh leader, said that American Sikh community leaders would seek a declaration of guilt from US TV host Leno, as he insulted their holiest site, The Golden Temple. Whereas, India’s foreign ministry said the government had taken the issue up with US authorities.

However, the US defended the remarks made by Jay Leno saying sarcasm was permissible under the US law. The state department spokesperson said Leno’s comments were constitutionally protected in the US under free speech.

It’s true there are limits to the rights of free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Whether Mr. Leno’s comments crossed these – by intentionally and deliberately meaning to hurt and put down the Sikh religion – will be up to others to make a decision.

India always look as ifs to be a soft-mark for such absurdity and humor where our pious and national sentiments are over and over again hurt and in return neither the concerned person seeks apology nor does he refrains from doing it. No doubt, Jay Leno got large publicity from this debate, he probably feels like the joke was a success and a hit, but using the sanctified shrine for this joke was not the most principled and moral preference.

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