The recent controversy surrounding a character in popular television serial Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah is nothing but unfortunate and shows how politicians and religious leaders can make an issue out of just anything.
Actor Gurcharan Singh, who plays Roshan Singh Sodhi on the show, is being castigated by a section of the social media and some Sikh organisations, including the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), for supposedly portraying the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh on the comedy show.
From demanding the show be scrapped to "Sodhi" being taken to task for hurting the religious sentiments of the Sikhs, the tirade against Singh and the show's producers has continued to be discussed in certain quarters, notwithstanding several clarifications.
I watched the episode in question on September 8, which showed Sodhi as "Guru Gobind Singh Ji Ka Khalsa" and in which he is seen speaking about how a follower of Guru Gobind Singh believes in living in harmony with everyone, earning an honest living and forever protecting his religion and the downtrodden. However, what did happen was that the "Ka Khalsa" line on the screen was obliterated by a disclaimer ticker, making it appear as "Sodhi as Guru Gobind Singh Ji". This was a chance that the so-called protectors of the religion were looking for.
Gurcharan Singh: 'It pains me to see how people have reacted as if I have committed a sin. I have not.'
Social media being as "proactive" as it is now was soon abuzz at the "sacrilege" and how the actor and the show's producers were insensitive, even though it was clear that that was not the case. Far from it, actually.
What "Sodhi" did was to speak about the virtues of a true Sikh and how he/she would go to any extent to protect the downtrodden and the marginalised sections of society. His "speech" was a fantastic advertisement for Sikhs and Sikhism, and the SGPC should have complimented him and the producers. But that was not to be.
Gurcharan Singh, a devout Sikh himself, a teetotaler and a vegetarian, was taken aback at the controversy. He said he deliberated over the role he played in that particular episode and made sure it did not violate any tenets of Sikhism. "No Sikh, anywhere, would ever portray any Guru," he told me. "This is just not possible. It cannot happen.
"It pains me to see how people have reacted as if I have committed a sin. I have not."
He said he is particularly upset at the SGPC chief who issued a statement and sought a clarification without even watching the show. "Had he watched and listened to the dialogues, they would have known."
This is the sad reality of social media, journalism and journalists these days. Anything that appears on Twitter, Facebook or the like is taken as the gospel truth and hundreds and thousands of people immediately form an opinion without any cross-checking facts or getting the concerned person to react.
Senior journalists have recently gone on record to ask "where is the time to cross-check", such is the hurry and the race to get an "exclusive", however insignificant it might be.
But what it does can be devastating for those affected, particularly when they have done no wrong. The reputations, the hard work, the dedication and all that they stand for are demolished within minutes.
As Asit Kumarr Modi, the producer, said: "Our intention is to present a light-hearted comedy show that promotes communal harmony and brotherhood, while tackling everyday situations in life. This controversy is unfortunate and needless."
"Sodhi", however, can take solace in that thousands of people on social media, as well as several Sikh organisations, have openly supported and complimented him for the portrayal. Clearly, he is no pariah and no rebel. The matter should rest at that.
Produced by Neela Tele films, the show, which is now nearly 2,300 episodes old, has brought about a revolution on Indian television. On completing 2,000 episodes late last year, it became the world's longest-running television comedy show in terms of the number of years.
Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah is based on the lives of families living in Gokuldham Society in Mumbai's Goregaon suburb and revolves around their day-to-day travails and tribulations, their joys, sorrows, fights, achievements and everything else.