Thursday, October 22, 2015

The one about the Goddess Yellamma tattoo

Somehow, I am continually shocked about the news that comes out of India and makes it to the West. Since we are not currently living in India, it is really hard to judge what is/what is not sensationalized. However, several of my friends (both Indian and Firangi's alike) who are living in India say that the general feel has been that our beloved country is becoming more and more severe with the Hindu nationalism (read: not in a good way)...


The latest news that really shocked us what was an Australian tourist who was dining at a restaurant in Bangalore was harassed by BJP extremists who have no other work and surrounded by an angry mob, because his tattoo apparently "hurt their sentiments". The crowd threatened to "skin" the tattoo off of his leg. Then, to make it worse, the BJP thugs called the police, and the corrupt police supported said thugs, telling the young tourist "to have his tattoo removed", and saying "this is India" [culture excuse], and then proceeded to illegally detain the couple at the police station and force them to write an apology letter. They were then discharged and given an instruction to "wear long pants and learn Kannada". How hilarious considering that there are so many desi men wearing short lungi's in South India; not to mention when I was in Bangalore, every person I ran into spoke only Tamil or Hindi, and not Kannada! The BJP thug decided to give a speech "about his love for his religion". How ironic that the love for one's own religion makes people behave in such an inhumane manner, using threats to physically harm someone. (I swear, I am getting more atheist by the minute...)

[Side note: some Goddess Yellamma followers marry their daughters to the Goddess, enslaving them as "devadasi" - prostitution in the name of *religious* tradition...where are the *Hindu values* police there???)

Bangalore is a very cosmopolitan city, and a mecca for foreign tourists, as well as being a central hub for brilliant IT minds and it also has an awesome music & arts scene. A huge chunk of our family lives there, as there are lots of career opportunities available. It is unfortunate that this has happened in such a modern city, although I think these types of thugs are consistently angered by how multicultural & multidimensional their city has evolved into. The fact that this has made it into the foreign media may further hurt India's image abroad, which is really unfortunate. One Firangi told me, "what if something I unknowingly do offends someone? Will I get attacked by an angry mob there?". I am getting a little tired of having to constantly explain to my friends & family that yes, India is a wonderful place, I swear!!!

Quite shocking more so, that many members of my own Firangi Bahu community are claiming "cultural appropriation", and that "he should research more about India", and that his tattoo is "offensive" and "disrespectful". I kid you not. Tell me, what will they do when the same folks come after them for being in an intercultural marriage in the name of Hindu *values*? Saying that your love hurts "Hindu" sentiments and that it is offensive? (Been there...)

The reality is that anything can be offensive to anybody. Seriously. Do you know the things that I have done that has offended some people? Living with my husband as an unmarried couple. Having sex before marriage. Not wearing my thaali or my other symbols of marriage. Working after having a baby. Being chubby and proud of it. Not living with my inlaws. My bra strap showing. Not wearing a dupatta. Kissing or hugging my husband. Having tattoos. Going to the temple with my period. Being in an intercultural marriage. Husband-ji was once told he was "not a true Iyengar" anymore for marrying me. He has been reprimanded by certain family members for inviting his non-Brahmin friends over to the house for snacks. I have seen Sikh friends harass each other because one chose to cut their hair.

And to those people claiming "cultural appropriation" might want to fact check that this "tourist" was actually no stranger to India. In fact, he had lived in South India and studied in Kodaikanal, and he had such a great time that he eagerly came back, along with his girlfriend.

Secondly, telling someone they should "research more about India" borders on victim-blaming and the fact that it is eerily and disgustingly familiar to the Michaela Cross story. Everybody said she should have "researched more about India" before going out ever so freely and consequently sexually harassed. I mean, seriously...I'm all for research about India, but that's NOT the reason why these things happen. More than anything, it's a case of: wrong place, wrong time.

Another big commentary was "the reason he was attacked is because of the bad placement of the tattoo", claiming that he wouldn't have had a problem if the tattoo was on his arm. SOME Hindu's believe that images of Gods should not be on the lower body because it is "dirty" and "inauspicious". However, SOME Hindu's do not share this belief - many believe that the body is a temple and that ALL of the body parts are created equal, with one not of lesser value than the other. SOME Hindu's also believe that images of Gods should be kept in the pooja room, and woken up and put to bed carefully each day. SOME Hindu's display images of the Gods everywhere - for as much good energy from the Gods as possible. As it is in every religion, there is more than one way to do things...

Lastly, what people choose to do with their body - what they choose to wear, tattoos, piercings, hair styles, make up, head scarves - is not anyone's business to comment on - even if certain people find it offensive. People who have tattoos that mean something to them do not have to explain them to anybody. Ever. 

Honestly, tattoo culture in India is still evolving and is nowhere near as developed - or as respected - as it is in the West. A lot of people are underexposed to the true art of tattooing, especially middle class urban Indians. Before husband-ji, the only people my MIL saw with tattoos were rural, tribal people - who quite funnily enough had religious symbolism inked on their body.

As many of my readers know, husband-ji has two full arm tattoo sleeves - one of Shiva and the other of Vishnu. He plans to get Brahma on his back. Originally, he got the Shiva tattoo to cover a third degree burn from a terrible cooking accident that covered 11% of his body and took over a year to heal. Everyone used to point at his burned skin and husband-ji was very ashamed of it. Until he got his tattoo, he felt he could never wear short sleeves or people would stare. It was also such a scary accident that he wanted his Gods with him at all times, for protection and to bring good energy. So when I hear people telling me that having your Gods tattooed on you is "offensive", I feel like telling them to f*ck off. They do not know the reasons for his tattoos, and how he suffered. His arm was an open wound for an entire year. He was in so much pain. He had to have plastic surgery and have the skin from his leg put on his arm. Even his skin transplant didn't look right.

Tattoos - much like religion - is a personal and private experience. The tattoos that people choose to get do not have to be explained. The way in which people practice their religion is private and does not need to be justified.

Husband-ji is very proud of his tattoos, and has even been complimented by priests! They are truly amazing works of devotional art. He constantly gets stopped, both in India and abroad, by fellow desi's who compliment it. Everyone in his family has loved it, so much that one of his younger cousin-brothers has got a Shiva tattoo, following in his footsteps. 

What ever your thoughts are on this - tattoos, the definition of Hindu "values", and what it means to be a "good" Hindu, one thing's for sure: mob mentality is a very dangerous thing. Let us not make excuses for the reason why this happened. Let us not make excuses for common criminals who choose to use "religion" to attack people and behave badly. They could attack anybody over anything and claim it is in the name of "religion". Especially any of us, who love outside borders, or live or lives different than the norm.

That is all.

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20 comments

  1. Another ballsy post, madhmama! 100% agree........right on mama!

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  2. Hi, i am from Bangalore and i stay near this event happen, In India english media is mostly focused on immigrants whitecollar employees, they love to bash anything local, So if you need real pictures always collect data from local news channels, they know the true scenario of the event happened.

    1.First when i read this news in Bangalore mirror , i became very angry and critical about intolerance, right to freedom and bad image whole India will get in foreign media.
    2. But when this news spread i got more info from local Kannada channels about actual scenario and video interviews of activists, Watchman,waiters and several eyewitness.
    3. There is bit of fault also lies in Australian tourist,Locals believe Goddess yellama is a powerful god , people mostly less educated treat the goddess at at most respect , locals gets angry not because of the tattoo, but he has got a tattoo in his Leg , its big no no for any Hindus.
    4. Even he had tattoo in his back of Ganesha, as per police everyone appreciated and they have taken photo with this, even though i am very liberal , when i see the photo of goddess in his leg i became really uncomfortable
    5. For hindus we grow in a society where below the waist is considered unclean, simple touch over leg to anyone else we have to say sorry and bow to them, that's environment we grow up, here this guy is having goddess photo in his leg and showing off with his shorts.
    6. This Issue shouldn't have blowout of proposition if he just told them that he will wear pant to cover this up, But his local kannadiga friend started arguing and make big issue by calling police,media and everyone.

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    1. If something offends you, it's simple. Don't look at it. I'm Indian, Hindu and lot of the stuff other Hindus do offend me. I just choose to keep my eyes closed and mouth shut. Try it.

      If you're look around for things to get offended, you will find them. If you really want to get offended, look at the filth, poverty and lack of mutual courtesy. Those are worth getting offended at, IMO.

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    2. What are you telling is perfectly correct in Ideal world, even i respect that and for me goddess in the leg is bit of uncomfortable but not offended by that, but you have to understand the subjective reality you live in and local sensitivities.

      In India most of the local goddess are worshiped by mostly from the people who are migrated from Rural areas and less educated and they have lot of superstitious belief and religion make people believe crazy things, As per discussion in this incident local people and police appreciated his Ganesha tattoo in his back and told him to wear Pant to hide tattoo below since its festival season people get offended easily.

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    3. Well at one point of time sporting god and aum on t shirt would have sparkes the same response.and even now my mum hates sarees with deities on the pallu as she feels ur sitting on them.but she doesnt harass the company making the sarees or people wearing.she doesn't thats it.gold wasnt supposed to worn ln the foot except by kings but then now many sport gold anklets.fashion and trends change and its also personal what was acceptable in the society also changes.so noone has the right to blame it on the custom as there is no written rule anywhr.and it might surprise many that the ancient tradition did not have any symbols of marriage,the bride and the groom wore a yellow thread before the wedding and removes it.after.no gold property markers for women. At one poing toe ring was for men the idea tat men walk with their head high so will notice the mangalsutra and women with bowed head would notice the toe ring.then they dumped tat too on women.there is no.custom to wear silk saree to an event with money camw the need to show off and people just blindly accept without thjnking if its their fashion choice or not.and broadly all this is custom and tradition
      What we wear has become more a custom defi er than what we do.you dont go to the temple you dress up to go there then the point of going to the temple is lost isnt it. When one who ks religious doesnt understand what is the proority why should someone who.may.not share similar beliefs care?it might just be a fancy design for someone. Reminds of heidi klum halloween controversy she dressed as kali.for me it was a cool costume.btw iam indian.too.and an agnost

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  3. @Alexandra

    The mob mentality is indeed dangerous and the things should have been handled properly. As the commenter said above, these days there is always this spin that is given to news. The police detained the couple perhaps to prevent any untoward happening, since I can understand when crowd gathers in India, there is law and order problem.

    Yes, the moral lecturing and other stuff and the detention etc. were unfortunate. Things could have been better handled. There are incidents happening in India which smack of rising intolerance. Most unfortunate, but people understand what is politically motivated and what is not. In this incident, the picture of the goddess on the leg was definitely offensive. Even I would have been offended by it.

    The problem is very simple, people do get offended due to various reasons religious or otherwise. But all of them do not want to indulge in violence. If you hurt my religious sentiment, I won't necessarily want to break your head neither do I approve of someone doing so on my behalf. If somebody indulges in violence claiming to be my representative, I condemn it. But my genuine sense of grievance cannot be made fun of.

    In Hinduism we do not step on books/paper/money as we consider it sacred and as as the commentator said if our foot touches somebody we apologize. There are lots of things bad about Hinduism. From time to time social reform movements have been carried out to address these issues. But a lot needs to be done. I can understand your sense of outrage but I think you are mixing up a lot of things here which generally happens a lot with Hinduism these days. Everything about our religion is obnoxious and bad. It everything is all wromh then let us do away with all religious believes, Can we enter enter a temple with our shoes on?? Can we climb on the alter of a church and stand next to Jesus?? The reasons why I mention this is that there are rules in every religion and we follow them. You have to use your own discretion and respect sensibilities but violence in the name of religion is not acceptable.

    Your interpretation of your religion is your private affair. But your interpretation of a different religion is not a private affair and never could be.


    We have to atone for all the sins committed by our ancestors since time immemorial to say anything because if we open our mouths there is something wrong happening somewhere in our country in which must be set right.

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    1. I do not think Hinduism is bad, in fact I find it to be one of the most peaceful and welcoming religions. It is only when thugs commit violence in the name of religion, that they give it a bad name.

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  4. This new obsession with 'cultural appropriation' has got to stop.
    I read an article recently on another blog about how white people shouldn't wear their hair in cornrows, Bantu knots, or even dreadlocks as it is an offensive form of 'cultural appropriation' to black people.
    Then there was another article debating whether it was an offensive form of 'cultural appropriation' for a white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, American girl to cook some version of a Muslim Lebanese dish at home.
    Look, as an American I've seen all sorts of possibly offensive tattoos (and I am sure Alexandra has too). I have seen tattoos of Nazi insignias & swastikas, graphic sexual acts, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, White supremacist logos, Black supremacist logos, gang signs, Islamic jihad slogans, references to Satan, pentagrams, crucifixes, Buddha, Kwan Yin, upside down crucifixes, beer logos, the Confederate rebel flag, nude women, nude men, genitalia of all varieties, tarot cards, flags of fascist regimes,- you name it I've seen it. I've seen these possibly offensive images on t-shirts too.
    Do I go up & lecture these people wearing these images about how offensive they are?
    NO.
    I'm sure they have some idea what these images mean & they don't need me (or anyone else) to go all "Talibani" on them about being offensive or in poor taste.
    Burning the American flag is now considered 'freedom of speech' in the US.
    Maybe negative attention is what these people are looking for?
    Whatever.
    It's not my role nor anyone else's to be the 'cultural appropriation' police.
    If you wish to inform someone that some image they are wearing is in poor taste & the reasons thereof- FINE, but do it politely.
    Can you climb on the altar of a church & stand next to Jesus? Most certainly. No rule against that. (Jesus doesn't hang around churches much nowadays anyway.)
    Can you vandalize & or destroy an altar, church, temple, idol, or mosque. No, that's just plain inappropriate.

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    1. True Bibi, but aren't all representations of a God an idol, in Hinduism ? (not trying to justify anything, just trying to understand) - Pad

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    2. Indeed they are.
      But what about the swastika?
      The swastika a symbol of auspiciousness in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
      In the Western world, the swastika since the 1930s has mostly been associated with the flag of Nazi Germany and the Nazi Party.
      I don't see many Hindus, Buddhists, or Jains getting upset about the 'cultural appropriation ' of the swastika by Nazis or Neo Nazis.

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  5. This new obsession with 'cultural appropriation' has got to stop.
    I read an article recently on another blog about how white people shouldn't wear their hair in cornrows, Bantu knots, or even dreadlocks as it is an offensive form of 'cultural appropriation' to black people.
    Then there was another article debating whether it was an offensive form of 'cultural appropriation' for a white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, American girl to cook some version of a Muslim Lebanese dish at home.
    Look, as an American I've seen all sorts of possibly offensive tattoos (and I am sure Alexandra has too). I have seen tattoos of Nazi insignias & swastikas, graphic sexual acts, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, White supremacist logos, Black supremacist logos, gang signs, Islamic jihad slogans, references to Satan, pentagrams, crucifixes, Buddha, Kwan Yin, upside down crucifixes, beer logos, the Confederate rebel flag, nude women, nude men, genitalia of all varieties, tarot cards, flags of fascist regimes,- you name it I've seen it. I've seen these possibly offensive images on t-shirts too.
    Do I go up & lecture these people wearing these images about how offensive they are?
    NO.
    I'm sure they have some idea what these images mean & they don't need me (or anyone else) to go all "Talibani" on them about being offensive or in poor taste.
    Burning the American flag is now considered 'freedom of speech' in the US.
    Maybe negative attention is what these people are looking for?
    Whatever.
    It's not my role nor anyone else's to be the 'cultural appropriation' police.
    If you wish to inform someone that some image they are wearing is in poor taste & the reasons thereof- FINE, but do it politely.
    Can you climb on the altar of a church & stand next to Jesus? Most certainly. No rule against that. (Jesus doesn't hang around churches much nowadays anyway.)
    Can you vandalize & or destroy an altar, church, temple, idol, or mosque. No, that's just plain inappropriate.

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  6. Hello Alexandra

    Long time reader , part time commenter :P
    You bring up an important social issue and "intelligent" folks would not stand for political groups harassing anyone (foreigners or locals) about their sartorial style. They may however impress on them the delicate nature of what can cause offense in some cultures WITHOUT resorting to mindless violence or nam-ecalling.

    However, the tone of your post suggests that all is well with the western world? There is a lot of antipathy that the west can share the blame for too. Some anecdotal evidence comes up in the form of "quran burning", gun violence, "brandon teena", rapes as are the case in western society, misogynists, anti-abortion political groups... the list goes on and this just captured the last ~25 years.

    So... you might want to also write an article in the future about the awful aspects of western society as well.

    I am not condoning the actions of these fools who resorted to quasi-violent behavior to make their point about tattoos. That is stupid. They could have approached it in a different manner with perhaps an example from Indian culture about why adorning your feet with god tattoos could offend (think "peeing in a pew in a church" to those who are religiously motivated).

    How it appears in "foreign media" is one thing... you/people should realize that media is biased and more so in foreign media which is generally set up to aggrandize western culture anyway (same could be said about eastern media too I suppose). so the points you draw on are not all that logical or unbiased. Yes, they don't take away from the focus the event that took place.

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    1. It is kind of funny that every time I have opinions about India, people always say I should ALSO write an article about the West. I have mentioned numerous times how I have preferred living in Canada rather than the US. I am even sponsoring my inlaws to immigrate to Canada, so I cannot complain. The majority of what is wrong in the West is currently in the US - gun violence, lack of maternity care, shit health care system, lack of LGBT rights, and immigration intolerance. There are many reasons why we did not choose to settle there. We do not currently live there. My daughter has more chances of settling in India (as she has a PIO) rather than the US. I do not have to mention those things when I choose to write about a specific Indian news story. It is completely off topic.
      P.S. Is the Times of India, DNA India, and the Hindu considered Western media?

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  7. Hey Alexandra, indeed it is shocking and distressing news for us westerners. However here is my hubby's 2 cents : probably part of the problem is that the tattoo is visible (not like the tattoo on his back) and more importantly is situated on the guy's leg.

    Caste system justify itself partly with the myth of the dismemberment of Purusha, whereby Brahmins came from Purusha's mouth and slaves from his legs. Hence, having a representation of God on the legs, near the feet, may impart the meaning that you are assimilating the God to low castes, "impure" peole. With a Christian mindset (the last will be first) it is totally acceptable, with a Hindu mindset it is not (I walk on your God)... (Pad)

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  8. How about people getting a tattoo of Mohammad or Jesus or Mary on their bodies? I never see that any time. Why this obsession with provoking and hurting someone's sentiments and then blaming Hindus for it?

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    1. You must not be familiar with tattoo culture at all. Jesus, Mary, and Allah are pretty much the most popular designs. And guess what....nobody has an issue with that.

      Jesus:
      http://www.tattooeasily.com/jesus-tattoo/

      Mary:
      https://www.pinterest.com/explore/virgin-mary-tattoos/

      But sure, you must be correct. Every thing only is to hurt Hindus. So sensitive da

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  9. I think all you have got this info from nirmukta group, highly biased.

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    1. Actually these are my own opinions. It is called being a free-thinking individual. Try it out sometime :)

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  10. Thank God they got away unharmed bcoz it was about tatoo of Hindu deity on his leg. If it were on Islam neither they nor u were alive to speak further on this issue. Taking advantage of others in the name of thrusting recipe of pseudo- tolerance down other people's throat is not going to sell anywhere. Wendy Donniger insulted Hindus to her heart's content with her shallow and half baked understanding of Hindu philosophy or spiritual symbolistic mythology. Had she done it against Islam she would have met Charlie Hebdo fate. She is fine ok selling her book and we just grumbled and kept quiet. Does tolerance means self-effacement and let others wantonly kick you!!!

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Respectful comments only, please! (That means you, anonymous.)

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