RainbowMan: To the Australian Boy With the Tattoo – I Am Ashamed

Harish Iyer’s open letter to Matt Keith, the Australian harassed in Bengaluru for a religious tattoo on his leg

3 min read
The controversial tattoo on Matt Keith’s leg (Photo courtesy: Twitter/@DeccanChronicle)

Dear Matt,

This evening when I read an article, I couldn’t stop myself from writing to you. And since what happened with you was in full public view, I would not be a coward and write you a mail, that would coyly land in your inbox.

Matt, you must have heard that my country is known for its pluralistic values. You must have read that India is a land of varied cultures, enshrined in the value of unity in diversity. I belong to a country that has always taught me - ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’, which means, ‘Guests should be treated like God’.

Matt, you must have valued my country, so you did something not many Indians would do. You have two Indian deities inked on your body as a permanent tattoo. I wouldn’t trust or love any country’s god or art so much that I make it a part of my body forever. So, thank you for the trust that you showed.

I read what happened with you at the restaurant. I know that you were harassed, teased, bullied and dragged to a police station. I read that your partner was sexually assaulted at a concert in Bengaluru too. Needless to say, I was immensely traumatised by your ordeal.

Matt Keith’s girlfriend Emily Kassianou’s Facebook post about the incident
Matt Keith’s girlfriend Emily Kassianou’s Facebook post about the incident

You didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this. Imagine, being in a different country, where you are being bullied and dragged to a police station over a tattoo. In your host country you deserved love and hospitality, not hate and hostility. Your partner deserved to be given respect and not molestation. I can’t possibly even imagine myself in your place.

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

What those people did to you and your partner was shameful. I would not say that the ones who did it with you are monsters and that such monsters belong to no religion and no state and no country and act miss-goody-two-shoes in the bargain. I would rather acknowledge the truth - the people who tormented you were Indian. It is another thing that they stand against the principles of our constitution, but they continue to be Indian.

Matt Keith’s latest Facebook post on the incident
Matt Keith’s latest Facebook post on the incident

I just wanted to tell you that I am utterly ashamed. This incident is a black mark for the Indian tourism industry. And it is not a surprise. I just want you to know that the face of India you see, has another side too. Not all people subscribe to the mentality of the ones who harassed you. Some are different, some are kind, some stand up against atrocities. So do come back sometime, and come with a leg full of tattoos, for there are people here who will respect you for what you are.

Thank you,
Harish Iyer

(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘RainbowMan’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)

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