Rejecting Atithi Devo Bhava3 min read
Two weeks ago in Bangalore, Matthew Gordon, a young man from Melbourne, was harassed by an agitated mob. His crime? Having an image of the Hindu goddess Yellamma tattooed on his shin. Gordon and his girlfriend, Emily Kassianou, were at a restaurant when they were approached by a group of locals who told him to cover the image, going so far as to threaten to skin his leg if he failed to do so.
The police, once the matter was brought to their attention, took the side of the crowd, detaining the couple and allegedly forcing Gordon to write an apology letter and giving them a lecture on proper Hindu values.
The crux of the matter, according to the locals, was that the couple didn’t have the same respect for the goddess as Hindus do, nor did they have a proper understanding of Indian culture. One speaker even alleged that the goal of the mob was not to assault or abuse them, but to warn them, claiming that tensions were running high during festival time. Despite these chivalrous words, the actions of the mob were far from precautionary. A mere warning rarely includes such graphic physical threats as skinning a person.
Predictably, social media was set aflame, churning out a series of tweets and Facebook statuses relating to this latest in a string of religiously motivated aggressions in the country, and the public seems to be divided on who was in the wrong, the voices condemning the couple being just as loud as those berating the mob. However, no matter which side was being defended, one point that never failed to come up was that Gordon and his girlfriend were foreign nationals. The shocking thing about this act, to most of the people who commented on it, was not the sheer aggression and alarming zeal with which it was committed, for that seems to have become almost commonplace as of late, but the nationality of the victims.
We live in a country that prides itself on its hospitality, and we try our best to promote amicable relations with other countries as much as we promote our tourism sector. One can hardly turn on the television without hearing the words “Atithi devo bhava”, a phrase that is, ironically, taken word for word from Hindu scripture. It is a phrase that the public seems to have forgotten. It is safe to say that Matthew Gordon and Emily Kassianou were not treated as though they were equivalent to God, as they were verbally and physically assaulted by locals, and they certainly weren’t shown any hospitality by the local police who refused to let them leave the station, even after the incident was explained several times.
This episode may seem minute in comparison to the various other religious aggressions that have occured, and it certainly doesn’t hold nearly the same weight as the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq or the recent inking of Sudheendra Kulkarni, but it is undoubtedly important. The entire world has its eyes on India, now more than ever. By attacking foreign nationals in such a brash manner over a matter as trivial as a tattoo we do ourselves more harm than good. We portray an intolerant India, one that will go to any lengths to start a fight. We belie the diverse and secular nature of country and our government by harassing those who have broken no criminal law, but rather unintentionally offended members of a particular group. As India carves out her place on the global stage, we need to ask ourselves, is this the country we want the world to see?
Shivangi Narain is a reporter at The Manipal Journal.
All views expressed in this article are personal.