An Aussie man travelling through India was threatened with skinning, detained in a police station, and allegedly forced to write a letter of apology, all because he had a tattoo of the Hindu goddess Yellamma on his leg.

Matthew Gordon, 21, and his girlfriend Emily Kassianou, 20, are one month into a six-month trip around India. Last Saturday they were lunching at a popular restaurant in Bangalore when men sitting at another table began to photograph and video them.

“When I asked them to stop, they confronted us about Matt’s leg, saying he should be skinned,” Emily told Indian newspaper Deccan Chronicle. According the news source, the men – and there were about 25 of them – included a politician from the Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and his supporters.

“It was getting really uncomfortable, so we asked the waiters to ask them to stop, and from there it started getting really aggressive,” Matthew told The Australian.

When they tried to leave the restaurant, the men – who were now joined by a police officer – were waiting outside.

“The cop joined in with the politicians,” said Emily. “He said ‘This is India, have the tattoo removed’.”

Deccan Chronicle reports that the complainant said they had simply asked Matt to wear jeans, and that Matt had responded with profanities, which is why the police were called.

The tattoo on Matt’s leg:

Aussie Man In India Threatened With Skinning Over Tattoo Of Goddess

The couple were then driven to a police station and detained for three hours, where Emily says that they accused of “intentionally spreading hatred”, and didn’t let them leave.

Matt says he was forced to write this letter of apology before they were allowed to leave.

My forced letter of apology that I had to write before I could leave the police station at Ashok Nagar. I should not…

Posted by Matt Keith on Sunday, 18 October 2015

It says:

Dear sir,

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.

Kind Regards,

Matthew

However, on Matt’s Facebook post accompanying the letter, it was a completely different story:

“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 live by, I respect India and Hinduism completely. That’s why I spent 35 hours getting a massive Ganesha put on my back and 4 hours getting the Goddess of the lowest rung of Indian society (Yellamma) on the only bit of space I had left on my body. Because my spiritual journey is my decision, as are the markings on my body.”

The Hindu reports that Matt eventually agreed to write the letter because Emily was in tears when the police would not let them go.

There has been a pouring of outrage over this incident from India; even Deccan Chronicle referred to Matt as boring “the brunt of Right-wing ‘hospitality'”, and The Hindu referred to the incident as an “ordeal”,


The Hindu reports that the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Sandeep Patil has brushed the matter off as “trivial”, and that “both parties have reached a compromise and there is nothing serious about it.”

Emily wrote on Facebook that the police “bend over backwards” to help members of the BJP party – as well as describing the harassment and sexual assault she had experienced in India (you can read about that in her post in full HERE).

“Yesterday, what we originally thought would be a quiet bite to eat turned into a vicious assault by members of the BJP right wing political party. These men are held with high esteem in Karnataka, with police bending backwards to please them. This meant that Matt and I were victims of being illegally detained. Yesterday, Matt and I found ourselves sitting in Ashoknagar Police station accused of ‘intentionally spreading hatred’. We repeatedly asked to leave, but were detained, although we were told we had not violated any criminal law.”

“However, whilst we have been welcomed by our peers there has been a wave of blatant racism and intolerance that has been a constant struggle. You hear horror stories about India, this is one. But, Matt and I will not be intimidated by self-styled guardians of morality. We will not sit down when there is no justice.”

Images: Facebook.