There has been a lot of hue and cry about India becoming an intolerant nation these days. At least, prima facie, it is made to appear so as the incidents that happened in the recent past indicate towards this growing cult of intolerance born out of certain prejudices. Or should I say political compulsions?

The latest case of visiting Australian couple in Bengaluru vis-à-vis Yellamma tattoo is yet another incident added to this list. An Australian national Matthew Gordon, 21, and his girlfriend Emily Kassianou, 20, both from Melbourne, were visiting Bangluru. Gordon, who had sported a tattoo of a Hindu Goddess Yellamma on his leg, was spotted by a group of Hindus who wanted him to remove the tattoo as they felt that it insulted their Goddess. The group, according to media reports, event threatened to skin his leg if he did not remove the tattoo on his own.

The police detained the foreigners at a nearby police station, ‘lectured them’ on basic tenets of Hinduism etc. and also told them that sporting such tattoos would hurt the sentiments of the Hindus. The police obtained an ‘apology’ letter from the Australian before letting the duo free.

If at all, this was an incident of an ignorant foreigner minded by locals about their sentiments, their beliefs etc. But as usual the secular media found in it intolerant, militant, anti-secular shades of Hinduism that too directly linked to the incumbent government at the Centre – even when it is a Congress government in Karnataka, the state government being responsible for law and order situation – and started circulating stories as to how the poor, innocent (?) tourists were harassed and how this rowdy behaviour of the crowd defamed India.

Local BJP leader R V Ramesh Yadav explicitly commented that this tattoo on the leg of this foreigner ‘insulted the Hindu Goddess’ Yellamma who is worshipped by large number of Hindus in many parts of India.

Yellamma, or Renuka, who is mother of Lord Parshurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is worshipped in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. According to scholar and writer Dr K L Kamat, in southern parts of India, Goddess Yellamma is known for her abundance and strength. She is also known as Jogamma, Holiyyamma, Renuka and by other such names. Her temples are located at Soudathi in Belgaum district, Chandraguthi in Shimoga district and Hulgi in Bellary district of Karnataka State. In neighboring states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh there are innumerable devotees of this Goddess.

Ramesh Yadav, who saw this Australian at a Bengaluru hotel and confronted him about the tattoo, told in an interview to The Hindu that the visiting foreigner conceded that the tattoo was of Goddess Yellamma and despite knowing this, he was still sporting it on his leg. “The Hindus feel offended and the tattoo is insulting to the Goddess they revered and worshipped,” Yadav said.

When Yadav and his friends came to know that the tattoo was permanent, they asked him to cover it by wearing a proper trouser. Instead the adamant Australian contacted his local friend who too rushed to his help immediately. All of them resorted to foul language. Police were called in, the visitors were taken to a police station and they pursued the Australian to give a ‘written apology’ before letting them off.

Two important question that intrigued me. One was that the Australian reportedly claimed he knew it was the tattoo of Goddess Yellamma but apparently was not aware of the importance of Goddess Yellamma in Hindu society. Second, the Australian may or may not be aware of her place in the pantheon of 33 crore Gods and Goddesses in Hinduism but assuming that he got that tattoo inked in India, was the man who painted it on his leg not aware of the ground reality? Why did he do so? For some bucks?

There is a need to educate and inform the Hindus, possibly more than the Australians or foreigners insulting our gods and goddesses. It was commendable that they gave some good tuition to the foreigner on Hinduism and how his action insulted their feelings and hurt their religious sentiments. At the same time, it is also the duty of us Hindus to learn to honour our symbols of faith and not trade those for a few rupees.

Hindus are a soft target and therefore face insult from anywhere and everywhere. The efforts should be to build a strong Hindu society so that no one would dare to indulge in such derogatory acts. The visiting tourists must also realise how pertinent it is to honour and respect the religious sentiments of the people of the host country.

Simple thing for foreigners to realise is: Will they tolerate any insult by a foreigner to their religion in their own country? We have seen ample examples of such intolerance, not just by foreigners but even by the locals. What is the situation in the Gulf countries? The Australian would not have even survived in one of the Gulf countries if he had indulged in similar acts hurting the local populace. The Charlie Hebdo case is still fresh in the public memory. Even if the Australian had tried to display something similar to this relating to Christianity or Islam, even in India, the reaction would have certainly been different, and certainly not this mild. Remember what happened to Professor T J Joseph?

The media too should follow some restraint in reporting such events. Their main focus in such cases is to downgrade the Central government for it is being run by a staunch Hindutvadi party. So, the main stream media leaves no chance to defame the government, malign its image and damage reputation. Pray, what is wrong in informing the visiting foreigner about the religious and cultural sensitivity of the host country people?

Just as it is important to educate the visiting foreigners, and in some cases, those like the tattoo artists who inked a goddess figurine on someone’s leg, there is also an immediate need to educate the media persons. There are ample cases of biased reporting when it comes to all things Hindus. One of the many reasons behind such malice is ignorance. Scores of the so-called highly educated media persons are outright ignorant about Hindu ethos and cultural practices. They prefer to stick to their so-called secular beliefs; they are neither inclined to understand nor ready to accommodate the other view.

A case in point is the manner in which The Hindu reported this incident. Bias, ignorance, deliberate nuisance, all rolled into one. All the more reason to educate the media too.