Respect for Cultures and Religions


I landed in Bangkok this evening, and noticed for the first time a small notification kept at the desk of the immigration officer. It was about “respect for Buddha”, and it said that it is important not to have a tattoo of Buddha, or show other signs of disrespect to Buddha and Buddhism. I am not able to recall the exact sentence on the small notification placard, but it was a clear communication to tourists to be careful when it comes to treatment of Buddha while they are in Thailand.

Thailand is a Buddhist country, and so I was not surprised with the notification itself. But, in the context of what happened earlier this week in Bangalore, the contrast was striking. In Bangalore, an Australian tourist was accosted by a group of strangers at a cafe when they noticed that he had tattooed a local Hindu goddess on his leg. Come on, of all places, the goddess was on his leg and that too, he was showing that off by wearing shorts in a Hindu country.

I am not in agreement with a whole lot of social media stuff on this occurrence which blasted the people who cornered the tourist and the police who made the tourist write an apology to appease the protesting public. It is critical to show respect to other cultures and religions, especially when one is visiting a foreign country. The concerned Australian did not demonstrate common sense, and assumed it would be fine to show off a Hindu goddess on his leg to a predominantly Hindu public in India.

There have been a multitude of protestations on how come a Cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, considered as the Silicon Valley of India, could be “so retrograde” as to chase a foreign tourist on this matter, and why police should force the tourist to write an apology. But, the weakness in such arguments is that these thoughts ignore the simple fact that most people of any city are common public and not IT programmers, who would get inflamed on obscene or disrespectful display of what they hold dear, especially when it concerns religions. How would a Catholic country react if such a display has been shown on the leg of an Indian tourist in their country, defaming their god or goddess ?

I think we have too many soft policy thinkers in India, who are seduced by capitalism and keep themselves going by comparing the U.S. with India on points such as these – in many areas, people all around the world are the same. May be in emotional displays, India may be on the extreme sometimes, and the crowds could turn violent on emotional matters. But, overall, people feel the same when it comes to things like these.

In a nutshell it is stupidity and total lack of sensitivity on the part of the Australian tourist. I doubt if other Western tourists would have done the same in India. It is critical to know the history, geography, culture, customs and religions of a country which you are visiting. And, avoid things which would put you into difficulties like what happened in Bangalore.

May be India needs to display some notifications on the multi-cultural sensitivities of India when tourists arrive at the Immigration counters.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th October 2015

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One comment

  1. Shiva

    Hi Vijay nice piece. Usual slick, smooth stuff from you! Just one question. Did the tourist “defame” the goddess, as you have indirectly alluded to, by saying “if such a display has been shown on the leg of an Indian tourist in their country, defaming their god or goddess”.

    And if the answer is”yes”, then would the same tattoo be considered differently if it was on the arm, for instance?

    Just a thought. ..

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