Heads up tattooed yogis. A man’s Hindu goddess tattoo got him into some big trouble over the weekend. Australian tourists Matthew Gordon and his girlfriend were out for lunch in Bangalore, India when locals began harassing him after seeing his large shin tattoo of Yellamma the Hindu goddess of the fallen and India’s lowest caste. The police were called, but it’s reported that Gordon was not released until he wrote an apology note.
Gordon, a 21-year-old law student, says he was confronted about his tattoo and threatened after several patrons of the restaurant began taking pictures and videos of him. “One of them came to me and confronted me about my tattoo,” he told the Hindu newspaper. “Soon, they surrounded us and threatened to skin my leg and remove the tattoo.”
The police arrived but according to Gordon, the reprimanding continued.
“A policeman arrived and said this is India and one couldn’t sport such a tattoo on the leg,” said Gordon, who also has a large tattoo of Ganesh on his back.
Gordon wrote in a facebook post that they were taken to the police station where he was forced to write an apology letter in order to be released.
Having studied in India years prior, Gordon promises he loves India and is respectful of Hinduism. “I love India which is why we came back to visit,” he said. “We have heard about the growing Hindu nationalism, but nothing justifies the way we were treated. I love Hinduism,” he said.
Many are saying this incident is just one example of the growing Hindu nationalism in India encouraged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (the one who successfully established International Yoga Day to praise and skepticism).
The incident illustrates, yet again, a growing climate of intolerance and lack of free expression under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Religious hard-liners who insist India is a Hindu nation (rather than officially secular as its constitution states) have become emboldened in the face of lackluster government opposition.
According to the Deccan Chronicle newspaper, several members of the crowd that threatened Gordon and his girlfriend on Monday belong to Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.
This may have been an isolated incident, but we have to consider all of the people out there with Hindu deities inked on their skin (not to mention Sanskrit), a majority of which are Westerners, and a bunch of whom travel to or study in India. Regardless of intention, the question of cultural appropriation hangs heavy in the air. One has to ask, is this a healthy blending of cultures? Or is it an unfair bastardizing of Indian heritage as “selective cultural adoption“?
Either way, it would be unfortunate to see these spiritual symbols become the markings of intolerance.
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