October 20, 2015

What is this Indian culture that feels threatened and slighted by a visiting Australian man sporting a tattoo of a Hindu goddess? - Editorial in The Hindu

The Hindu - October 20, 2015

[editorial] All over a tattoo

What is this Indian culture that feels threatened and slighted by a visiting Australian man sporting a tattoo of a Hindu goddess? What is this Indian culture that is so intolerant of people from other faiths, especially Muslims and Christians, who do not worship the same gods and who do not have similar food habits and tastes? And who exactly are the self-styled proponents, upholders and protectors of Indian culture? The Australian’s shocking account, reported by this newspaper, described how a bunch of people in Bengaluru threatened him with dire consequences when they spotted on his shin the tattoo of goddess Yellamma — who is worshipped in parts of southern India, and who as the Mahabharata says was slain by her son on her husband’s orders for merely looking at the pleasing reflection in a river of a celestial flying overhead. A policeman, instead of protecting the young man from the group, corralled him to a police station and got him to write out an apology. That this happened in a modern Indian city in this age and time should worry everyone. Increasingly, cities are falling prey to vigilante groups whose views often represent everything that is reprehensible to real Indian culture. Couples are yanked out of the privacy of their rooms by cops who hold the view that their being together is against the culture. Women are directed, by none other than an elected Chief Minister of a State that boasts the worst sex ratio in the country, to shed their clothes if they desire freedom. Such bizarre views and outcomes appear out of sync with the dominant political discourse of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which repeats the development mantra while many among its cadres go about preaching the message of cultural exclusion.

In this sort of toxic air where a band of puritanical elements threaten to stamp out everything that goes against their own understanding of Indian culture, voices of sanity have to make themselves heard loud and clear. The ruling political class, if it seeks development, has to talk to its people on the values of Hinduism as opposed to the backward-looking forces to which it extends tacit support. Indian culture must accommodate the view that gods and goddesses have their own particular traits. Let them not be imprisoned behind concrete vaults and confined to rituals. Hinduism has thrived over the centuries because of its larger-than-life philosophy of accommodation and tolerance. Let not Indian culture be shackled — unless this country wishes to go down the path of Saudi Arabia where women have hardly any rights; unless it wishes to take the road travelled by the IS or the Taliban; and unless it wishes to shut off all discourse.