Matthew Gordon (21), Australian law student, and his girlfriend Emily Kassianou came to Bengaluru nearly a month ago on a holiday. The holiday turned into a nightmare on Saturday, after a group of men and police harassed them over a tattoo. He spoke to The Hindu on the ordeal:
Q: Can you tell us about the tattoos and why you got them inked?
A: I got the tattoo long back in Australia. Goddess Yellamma on my left shin took four hours to ink; while the big Ganesh tattoo on my back took 35 hours to ink. I have a strong attachment towards Hinduism, as I had done three years of schooling in Kodaikanal. It was when I completed school here that I went back to Australia for law. These tattoos mean a lot to me. I’m not sporting them because of their exoticism. I know the mythology and the values of the gods inked on me.
What happened at the restaurant when the men objected to the tattoo?
Around 2 p.m. on Saturday, I was with my girlfriend having lunch when a group of six men at the next table started to click pictures. When I objected, one of them came up to us and pointed to the tattoo of goddess Yellamma. He threatened to skin my leg to remove the tattoo. Then the group accosted us and asked: “How dare you have a tattoo of a Hindu goddess on your leg? Do you even know the Hindu values?” We sensed there was trouble brewing, as they started to shout at the top of their voices and attempted to gather support from other diners.
Did any of the diners or the restaurant management come to support you?
No. Everyone became mute spectators, even the waiters and the management there. It seemed to get out of control and we packed our food and decided to walk towards our car. But, the men had called up more people to come, and we were surrounded by nearly 25 men. I was relieved to see a policeman, but much to my shock he started to blame me, and said, “This is India and we are insulting Hindus.” He then took me to the station.
Did the men leave after that?
No, they followed us to the police station, and were proud spectators when the police sub-inspector was giving me a dressing down on the values of Hinduism. The men were even chit-chatting with the police. As a law student, I tried to tell them I haven’t broken the law. We were forced to sit there for three hours. They let me go only after I gave an apology saying I will cover this tattoo.
Do you think the episode has come to an end, or do you still harbour fear?
My plan is to stay in India till February, and I love Bengaluru city and have lived here for a while now. But now, it looks like I’ll be forced out of the city fearing my safety and out of fear of groups such as these who question my freedom of expression. I have also contacted the Australian embassy about the incident.