January 24th, 2012
06:00 PM ET
Late night hosts are using everything they've got to poke fun at the Republican presidential candidate race, from Jimmy Fallon making campaign ad parodies to Jimmy Kimmel’s “A Charlie Brown GOP Debate."
But “The Tonight Show’s” Jay Leno might have gone too far for a few laughs.
On January 19, the show aired images of each GOP candidate’s home during Leno’s monologue. When it came to Mitt Romney, however, the image of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India was shown as his summer home, possibly to mock the extent of Romney’s wealth.
To Sikhs, the Golden Temple (also known Sri Harmandir Sahib and Sri Darbar Sahib), is a place of worship called a gurudwara and is the most well known one in the world.
The Golden Temple is an important spiritual center and point of pilgrimage for many Indian religions due to its location in the holy city of Amritsar. It's also a sensitive part of India’s history, as it was the site of Operation Blue Star in 1984, where the Indian Army killed several Sikh militants.
As a result, the Sikh community is none too pleased with Leno, and his quip has led to the creation of an online petition at change.org asking Leno and NBC to “stop defaming Sikhs and using derogatory remarks against the Sikh shrines.”
“This derogatory depiction of Sri Darbar Sahib as the home of [the] rich is contrary to the reality and hurtful to the sentiments of the Sikhs,” the petition said. It also went on to assert that Leno has previously insulted the Sikh community. At the time of this post, there are 3,582 signatures out of the 5,000 needed.
“It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple,” he said. “The Golden Temple is the Sikh community's most sacred place...The American government should also look at this kind of thing.”
The BBC reports that Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, defended the joke while saying that the US had “absolute respect” for the Sikh community.
"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 said. “Our view is obviously that Sikh Americans have contributed greatly to the United States.”
The issue has started a debate in the media and on social media networks.
Abhijit Majumder, an editor at the Hindustan Times, tweeted, “Read about Jay Leno joke. Next mass movement should be over largescale disappearance of India's sense of humour.”
Another user, tavleen_singh, tweeted, “As a Sikh may I put on record that I am ashamed of the chippy, humourless response to Jay Leno. Where is the famous Sikh sense of humour?”
CNN reached out to NBC, and the network has said they don't have a comment at this time.
What do you think of the backlash? Watch “The Tonight Show” monologue to decide for yourself:
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