Leno-gate, Sense, and Nonsense

(credit: sikhtoons.com)

(credit: sikhtoons.com)

I really wish we could move on from this story, but unfortunately, it is dominating Sikh-related news.

The hysteria following Jay Leno’s bit that involved a depiction of Darbar Sahib (aka The Golden Temple) refuses to die.  Now that a Sikh physician in California has initiated a lawsuit against Leno, and the SGPC (the authority that manages Darbar Sahib and many other Gurdwaras in India) has demanded action from the US Government, and even politicians in the United Kingdom are trying to milk the hype, the story is spiraling out of control and far beyond anything it deserved.

The reports of our community’s panicked sense of offense have now gone viral, and the media is having a field day with sensationalizing this story.  Sadly, as Sikhs, especially in this country, this is to our own detriment.  Jay Leno’s bit was our chance to welcome the public into our world to educate people in a positive way about what Darbar Sahib is and stands for. We have lost that opportunity and, instead, we have demonstrated that we are a close-minded, short-sighted and paranoid group of people.  For many, the real comedy  is now not the joke that Jay Leno told, but the response to it by Sikhs and Indian politicians.

However, I believe that there is a not-so-silent majority of Sikhs who share my opinion about the nature of our response to Leno’s bit, but our voice is not being represented by the media who are often implying that the outrage is shared by all Sikhs.  Surely, reason and a measured approach is less newsworthy, but I think the voices advocating this must get the message out that we are not like what a few individuals are making us appear.

For example, on the Sikh blog The Langar Hall, blogger Brooklynwala comments that he didn’t find the joke to be horribly offensive and questions whether we are over-reacting:

Of course, no one who watched this segment actually thought Darbar Sahib was Mitt Romney’s house.  Perhaps the Taj Mahal would have been a better choice?  What do you think?  Are you offended by the Mitt Romney joke?  Are these lawsuits justified?

Even more emphatic is T. Sher Singh’s editorial on the popular Sikh website, sikhchic.com:

This particular quip was directed against Mitt Romney, and it made the point well.

The reference to the Golden Temple, I thought, was complimentary to the Sikhs, not by any stretch of the imagination a negative one…

Jay Leno has said nothing wrong, done nothing wrong, and has no reason to apologize in this matter.

But what will we do with the dimwits who usurp our voices and lead those amongst us who are simple and trusting, astray?

On his blog Journey of a Sikher, blogger Prince of Punjab writes:

Sikhs were /are defenders of freedoms even when they were not in line with their own beliefs, for this reason I defend Jay Leno, not that I agree with him, but he has every right to say what he wants and feels, it will not /should not matter to those who revere the Golden Temple, and if their personal belief can be shaken with a small joke they need to really look into themselves.

Further, in the artwork above, Sikhtoons reflects on the irony in the actions of those who want people to take our institutions seriously. The cartoon is  another invitation for us to reflect on ourselves as individuals and as a community.

There are many other people who are expressing similar sentiments.  Unfortunately, we now find ourselves on the wrong side of the media battle in this situation. The issue now is not just about Jay Leno’s joke, but as much the question of how we must manage the firestorm that we ourselves have fueled.


  1. A_ito Singh

    Why the double standard? When Bollywood misrepresent Sikhs all these blogs and SikhToons don’t end with their stories. SikhChic itself is a sorry excuse for a blog because it censors and edits the comments people make. The point here is of MISREPRESENTATION of Sri Darbar Sahib. Do we “panic” when Bollywood does the same? Are we just afraid of being “misunderstood” here in America as “fanatics?”
    I do agree that in one of the articles the Indian government has no say on this issue. Where were they during 9/11? What about justice for Sikhs living in their very country?

    • Respectfully, to a couple of your points:

      1. There is no double standard. Bollywood has a long history of mocking and distorting the Sikh faith. Jay Leno’s joke was doing neither. Again, it was a joke to say that Mitt Romney was so wealthy that his summer home was Darbar Sahib – this is something that obviously has no basis in reality and hence this is what made it a joke about Mitt Romney. He wasn’t making a literal statement. It was an exaggeration to highlight Romney’s wealth.

      Was it a bad joke? Probably. But, it was definitely not worth all the attention it has raised. And, again, our emotional reaction to it does not benefit us in the least.

      2. How SikhChic handles their comments is a separate issue that doesn’t discredit the points T. Sher Singh discusses. I agree with him on several points in his piece.

  2. A_ito Singh

    Jay Leno has a history of mocking Sikhs as well, as does Bollywood? Aren’t Bollywood’s jokes just JOKES as well? The joke about Mitt Romney made ultimately showed Sri Darbar Sahib for what it is not. It is a place where Sri Asa Ki Vaar is sung every morning, Rehras Sahib every night, and non-stop Gurbani throughout the day. Did the people watching know that? The Taj Mahal would’ve been different because people already know what it is. It is not a historical Gurdwara.

    • Jay Leno has a history of mocking everything. That is his job. His only previously reported mockery of Sikhs was the “diaper head” comment. I have not seen footage of this, but THAT is offensive. The Darbar Sahib depiction is nothing along that line and so I would hardly say he has “history” of mocking Sikhs. The fact Darbar Sahib is being showed for what it is not was the exaggeration of Romney’s wealth that Leno was trying to make.

      I can agree the depiction was a lame joke, but again, I’m not offended. It would take a lot more than this to “hurt my sentiments” as a Sikh.

      Bollywood, on the other hand regularly portrays Sikhs as clowns (including the use of “Sikh-face”), misrepresents our physical identity and our religious distinctiveness, and promotes every stereotype out there.

      Would you have been less offended if Darbar Sahib was more well-known than the Taj Mahal?

      Clearly, you and I interpret the joke differently. and so we will otherwise have to agree to disagree on this topic.


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