An Australian man has alleged that he and his girlfriend were harassed by a group of men at a restaurant in Bengaluru because he has a tattoo of an Indian goddess on his leg. He also alleged that they were taken to a police station, where they were made to write an apology before being allowed to leave.
The Australian High Commission responded by saying it was “concerned” about the incident. “We are concerned about reports that an Australian citizen was threatened with violence and detained by police because of a tattoo. The Australian Consulate General in Chennai is speaking with local authorities about the incident and has made contact with the couple in question,” an Australian High Commission spokesperson said Monday.
The incident took place on October 17, when Matt Gordon, 21, and his girlfriend Emily Kassianou, 20, were visiting the upmarket Konark restaurant on Residency Road in central Bengaluru.
Some people at the restaurant noticed a tattoo of goddess Yellamma on Gordon’s shin and started clicking pictures — despite the couple’s objections. Some men demanded that the tattoo be removed or that Gordon cover up his shin. A few also suggested that his skin be removed to get rid of the tattoo, Gordon alleged.
Amid the commotion, a staff member called a policeman, who suggested that the matter be resolved at the local police station. One of the men involved in the incident, Ramesh Kumar, is reportedly a small-time Bengaluru BJP leader.
Videos of the incident recorded by a witness on his mobile phone show Gordon standing outside the restaurant, asking a small group of men, including a policeman, what they expect him to do about his tattoo. The policeman also suggests covering up the tattoo. An Indian friend of the couple intervenes, says the tattoo cannot be removed and agrees to go to the police station to resolve the dispute. The men from the restaurant follow the patrol van to Ashok Nagar police station. Gordon claimed that once they reached the station, police officials did not allow them to leave and accused them of “spreading hatred”.
Ramesh reportedly told police they had only asked Gordon to wear jeans and he responded by suggesting that Ramesh should call the police if he had any objections. The Ashok Nagar police subsequently asked Gordon and Emily to write an apology to the sub-inspector, Ashok Nagar police station, and instructed them to wear pants and learn Kannada. “Initially, the activists wanted to file a complaint against the Australians but we convinced them not to do so. We let the Australian free after we got an apology letter,” a police officer said.
In the letter, Gordon wrote: “My name is Matthew, visiting from Melbourne, Australia. I am very sorry for offending Hindu religious beliefs by my tattoo. I did not know of this auspicious custom in regard to tattoo placement. I will make sure to cover it up while I am in India. Thank you for educating me in what is appropriate in regard to body art on my body. I am also extremely sorry for using inappropriate language.”
After leaving the station, Gordon said he no longer wanted to stay in Bengaluru.
“I should not have to apologise for what is on my skin and be put in a traumatising situation where it is apparently acceptable to be harassed, threatened and mobbed. Tolerance, understanding and equality is what we we live by, I respect India and Hinduism completely,” he later wrote on Facebook.
“It was a trivial incident that was resolved after both parties reached a compromise,” deputy commissioner of police (central) Sandeep Patil said.
The Australian High Commission spokesperson said, “We understand offence was taken at an image of a deity tattooed on a person’s leg… The Australian Government encourages Australians travelling abroad to research and respect local customs and laws.”