Australian couple alleges harassment by BJP workers and cops over tattoo of Hindu goddess

Bengaluru: An Australian national and his girlfriend were allegedly harassed by a group of BJP workers in Bangalore for sporting tattoo of a Hindu goddess on his body and forced by police to write an apology for "intentionally spreading hatred".

Police have launched an inquiry into allegations by the couple who narrated the incident that happened at a restaurant on a Facebook post claiming that they were "illegally detained" by police after the "vicious assault by members of BJP".

A local BJP leader, who was allegedly involved in the incident along with party workers, today said the area is
surrounded by slums and they were concerned about the couple's safety as they were flaunting the tattoo. "So we called the police," he said.

"We requested police to ask them to cover their body so it is good for them, as well as for us. It is also not their
fault, but of those who are guiding them during their stay here," Ramesh Yadav said.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Bengaluru Central) Sandeep Patil said police had viewed the matter seriously. He said an Assistant Commissioner of Police was inquiring into the incident and on receiving his report, strict action would be taken against the "concerned persons."

"As alleged by the foreign national if there was any kind of abuse and harassment by the crowd as well as local police, definitely the Bangalore city police will take the matter very seriously," he said.

Patil said if police had forced the couple to give an apology, "it is a serious matter".

He said according to preliminary inquiry, the foreign nationals were having lunch at a hotel and noticing the tatoo
on his leg, some people around objected to it, which led to a commotion and police were informed about it. 

"What has happened in the police station will be enquired into...," he said. 

The incident occurred on Saturday when Matt Keith, a law student at Deakin University, and his girlfriend Emily were at
a restaurant here and a group of people took objection to Keith having a tattoo of the goddess, Yellamma, on his shin. He also has large Ganesha tatoo on his back.

The couple said that as they were in the restaurant, some people there started photographing them. One of them approached them and objected to Keith having a tattoo of the goddess.

They said more people soon joined them. Some policemen came to the spot and took them to Ashok Nagar police station, where they were allegedly forced to write an apology letter.

"....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," the couple said.

"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," they added. 

Claiming that no one forced the foreigners to write an apology letter, Yadav said the person accompanying them insisted on it, requesting them not to file a complaint.

He also said no threat was held out to the couple and they had called the police during the incident, adding it was all recorded on CCTV cameras. 

"My forced letter of apology that I had to write before I could leave the police station at Ashok Nagar. 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," Keith posted on his Facebook page.

He said, "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 four 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. I do not deserve to be victimised and have to physically defend myself and my girlfriend every day," he said.

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