The recent incident in Bengaluru, involving the Australian law student, Mathew Gordon, defiantly sporting goddess Yellamma’s tattoo on his shin, and moving around the city as if to display it to the public without any compunction, raises several questions. i) Should Indians be tolerant and dismiss such things as non-events born out of the outlandish ignorance? ii) Or, is it becoming of Indians to be sensitive to such issues and counsel the foreigner as to the cultural and religious disrespect such acts entail, as it involves downgrading revered deities and goddesses? iii) Do foreigners like Mathew Gordon do it out of ignorance or by design, possibly with provocative motives? iv) Does the Australian High Commission’s tacit intervention, within barely 48 hours, point to a premeditated, but well measured, ambushing at the Hindu fringe?
In an undignified editorial, “All Over a Tattoo” (Oct. 20, 2015), The Hindu all but prostrated at the feet of Mathew Gordon and condemns India for its culture of intolerance by invoking all that is not strictly related to the incident. Going, in toto, by the statements made by the Australian student, never suspecting his motives (be them for his defense…), the learned Newspaper finds the whole incident shocking and suspects the police to have joined the mob in harassing the boy and his girl friend by detaining them for 3 long hours at the police station! What is more, it hangs its head in unspeakable shame and states, “That this happened in a modern Indian city in this age and time should worry everyone.”
The implication is obvious. Whatever foreigners do, Indians should take it good humouredly presuming them to be good hearted, innocent and ignorant. It does not occur to the editorialist that ‘in this age and time’ the world has shrunk several folds, thanks to the IT revolution. And the age-old saying, ‘Athidhi Devobhava’ does not literally mean that the host country should put up with the guests’ imperious demeanor gulping down all the insults including their refusal to respect local customs and sentiments.
But does our Australian guest correspond to this haloed profile presumed by The Hindu editorialist? Not in the least. Mathew Gordon spent 3 years in Kodaikanal before going back to Melbourne to do his law. By his own admission he knows Hinduism well and he loves it! Yet, he finds it appropriate to get a tattoo of a deity done at his shin! That is, a person who spent 3 years in India, that too in a religiously devout state of Tamil Nadu, and one who is specially in love with Hinduism, did not know what constitutes giving respect to Hindu gods and goddesses! It is obvious that he is speaking to impress. He has no love lost for Hinduism.
Worse, recall that Mathew Gordon has also a tattoo of Ganesha on his body. And this one is on his back. Everyone knows, Yellamma, being a village deity, is lower in hierarchy than Ganesha. While Ganesha is part of Hindu pantheon of gods, Yellamma is not. Thus, Yellamma is not a very highly respected goddess whereas Ganesh Chathurthi is celebrated with a lot of fervor all over India. It would be ironical if the Indian experience of Mathew would not have made him aware of this fact. Now, should we think that it was just a coincidence that Mathew preferred Yellamma to be on his shin and Ganesha on his back, that is, a more respectable and shielded place? But why Yellamma, on par with Ganesha, he could have got a Shiva, Vishnu, or Kumara Swamy tattooed on his shin. Or if he preferred goddesses, he could have got their consorts, Parvathi or Lakshmi tattooed. His choice then is deliberate? So it seems.
Apparently, he is aware of the strong reaction that a tattoo of Lakshmi or Pravathi (or Shiva or Vishnu) would produce if he displays it on his shin. Worse, such reaction has the potential to be all pervading among Hindus. That is, it would surpass the ‘fanatic’ or ‘moral policing’ circle among them and gain universal acceptance as an outrage done to Hindu religious sentiments. But the idea seems to be one of provoking the fringe elements amongst Hindus and not one of taking on Hinduism as such. The idea is to reinforce the impression of Hindu extremism by re-kindling the conflict between secularism and the Hindu fringe. The idea finally is to discredit the present BJP lead NDA government as upholders of Hindu nationalism.
If one understands that by destroying Hindu religio-cultural fabric, one is simultaneously destroying the very embodiment of Indian ethos and personality, one would understand why the West is intent upon such low-intensity cultural war-fares. It would then become easier and easier for the West to intellectually and morally subjugate Indians and virtually re-orient national and international policies to suit them. Indeed, the West’s entire unstated cultural-imperialist policy – which they doggedly and with whole-hearted cooperation by their populations pursue to perfection – is geared towards such goals
Notice also that that Mathew Gordon did not complain against his ‘tormentors’, that he consented to apologize (that he however termed as forced reflecting his reluctance to acknowledge popular sentiment), that he adduces his ‘freedom of expression’ as an excuse for sporting the tattoo, that he makes a statement of fearing reprisals as a pretext for leaving the city, and finally, the Australian High Commission tacitly indicates its readiness to intervene if situation demands… all point to escape routes meant for disentangling out of a situation from which only a limited outcome is intended. Provoking the fringe elements so as to discredit the regime and reinforce appreciation of Western-style secularism in this country, and not one of getting embroiled in controversies that may, at times, lead to exposing Western motives. It is very unfortunate that a 136-year old India’s National Newspaper failed to make a deeper analysis and found it appropriate to subordinate India’s National and Cultural pride to manners of politeness towards foreigners!
Those in public life should understand that a person’s as well as a Country’s dignity and sovereignty are upheld only in so far as they uphold their own values, cultural, religious or otherwise. Not in thinking that such values are primitive and relegating them to background in order to appease the West and exploit self-serving imports entailing from the opportunistic Western tenets such as Freedom and Equality. Please notice here that I am not talking of absolute values but the use made of these Western tenets, widely in the West and increasingly in India.
Tail Piece: This author has the experience of being detained, in his student days, by the French police, at Caen city, from 10 am to 4 pm, on the mere suspicion that he could be among the gang of thieves who burgled a house the previous night! Am I then justified to claim that it amounted to harassment and infringement of my freedom as it disrupted all my plans for the day?
In 1981, when there was an attempt on the life of Pope Jean Paul II, at Lyon, France, and when subsequently the Pope announced that he pardoned the assassin, I quipped to the effect: May be he made a statement commensurate with the exalted position he held. My catholic friend, an African, living in France, shot back something like this: That is being too harsh!
By Dr. Codadu Pratap