A lawsuit was filed in California against comedian Jay Leno, over a Mitt Romney joke, which contained what Indian-American plaintiff Randeep Dhillon called racist remarks against Sikhs and their holy shrine, the Golden Temple of Amritsar.
Jay Leno poked fun at Mitt Romney, who has faced questions regarding his wealth, in a skit last week, and showed a picture of the Sikh temple, portraying it as Romney's summer home. Dillion told the BBC that Leno hurt the sentiments of all Sikh people.
Although the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the BBC that the Constitution protects free speech, one Indian minister disagreed with that, calling Leno's comments objectionable, and said freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others.
In his suit, Dhillon said Leno's joke clearly exposes plaintiff, other Sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because it falsely portrays the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by a non-Sikh. A different Sikh group also started a petition, calling his remarks derogatory.
Sikhism is a religion that originated in the Punjab region of South Asia in the 15th century. Sikhs can often be recognized by their turban, uncut hair and facial hair, an iron or steel bracelet, and often, a steel sword they carry. India has a Sikh population of almost 20 million. The United States has a Sikh population of 700,000.
The Sikh Golden Temple, located in India, houses the most holy text of the Skih's, the Guru Granth Sahib. It was initially constructed in 1574, but was destroyed by Afghans in the 18th century. It was rebuilt in the 1760's.
Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, also voiced his opposition, saying It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple.
Nuland, however, said that Leno's comments were not meant to be offensive. I hope [Leno will] 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 She went on to say the United States has absolute respect for the Sikhs, and pointed out that President Obama celebrated the birthday of Guru Nanak, the religion's founder, at the White House; the first President to do so.