The Tattoo Taboo

Arts & Culture National

Tattoo is still a taboo in many sections of the Indian social fabric; even though, tattoos have been in the Indian culture since ancient times. 

By Sanchari Ghatak

Bangalore: Culture Trip Asia states that for hundreds of years, the tradition of tattooing to segregate groups was common across the country. Even today, tattoos on the forearms of many different communities are traditional (particularly in Maharashtra and Gujarat, where one can easily find the peculiar green ink tattoo). As diverse as the Indian cultures are, so are the customs and kinds of tattoos associated with every community or tribe.     

“In certain tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, for instance, faces of young girls were tattooed so that they appeared unappealing. If you go to the tribal villages of the Ziro Valley, you might still find some old women from the Apatani tribe with their faces tattooed (though the Apatani are more famous for their nose plugs, another indigenous way to ensure that rival tribes would not steal the women),” Culture Trip Asia added.

When Swagata Banerjee, a student from National Law University of Orissa (NLUO) first broke the news of her getting a tattoo on her 22nd birthday, her parents weren’t quite pleased with the decision. A bulk of questions and concerned queries were thrown at her.

“I was almost prepared for such a reaction. It is extremely natural, given the nature of our society. Often tattooed people are considered rebels or spoilt brats. However, as time went by, my parents understood that this tattoo was something I wanted to gift myself,” Swagata said. 

Swagata’s tattoo reads as ‘Makhtoob.’ It is an Urdu word which translates to ‘It is written (in fate)’ in English

“The fact that I stay away from my parents, in my college hostel, I think, had helped in the situation a lot. The distance made it possible for my tattoos to normalize sooner,” she added.

Blood donation is a great way of extending help to a fellow human being. However, there are certain myths associated with blood donation that make people believe they are not eligible for donating blood. The most popular one is you cannot donate blood if you have a tattoo and Dr. MS Mondal, Retd. Director of the Regional Blood Transfusion Centre (RBTC), Calcutta National Medical College, Kolkata, debunked it. 

He said, “It is true that earlier tattooed people were not allowed to donate blood at all. However, in 2013, the National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) along with National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) had revised the guidelines to a tattooed person being eligible for blood donation if their tattoo is over six months old. This rule was again revised two years back to extend the time period to one complete year.” 

The NBTC and NACO eligibility guidelines earlier read: “Past six months – not had a tattoo, ear or skin piercing or acupuncture, not received blood or blood products, no serious illness or major surgery, no contact with a person with hepatitis or yellow jaundice.”     

“The revision was done since, besides AIDS, tattooing needles if reused, could also carry the Hepatitis C virus. It takes at least a year for a person to be completely sure that they are clear,” Dr. Mondal added.

Pradeep Guha, an IIT  Kharagpur employee and a father of a 20-something fashion designing student, said, “To be honest I don’t really want my daughter to get a tattoo. I am concerned that she might not be able to donate blood. Most big hospitals don’t allow tattooed people to donate blood. Besides, I am also worried that the needle may carry HIV and other viruses. She could even get a skin infection or a chemical reaction. However, she is an adult now and I will let her decide for herself. I have discussed my concerns with her, but if she really wants to go forward with it, I won’t really be able to stop her.”

Having a tattoo can reduce the chances of getting a job, but it depends on where the tattoo is, what it depicts and if the job involves dealing with customers—a new research has found. Dr. Andrew R Timming from the School of Management, at the University of St Andrews found that employers are prone to viewing tattoos negatively.

Tattoo is prohibited in jobs like IAS, IPS, IRS, IFS, Indian Defence Services, Army, Navy, Air Force, in hospitality sectors, etc.

Rebanto Roy’s parents were almost in denial when he first got his tattoo done. “Initially, my mother thought it to be a temporary tattoo. I tried playing along with the story for some time but soon realized that she’ll anyway get to know the truth about my tattoo, hence I eventually gave in. I have also been denied a job by hospitality companies and airlines because of my tattoo. It a sad reality, but the tattoo is a taboo in India,” he said.

Rebanto’s tattoo portrays the fragments of a star

Deva Sagar, an IT firm employee, however, said, “My mother was quite happy about seeing my tattoo. It was a surprise for her. I got the words, ‘Mom’s Lil boy’ tattooed on the side of my wrist. Recently I have a phoenix tattooed on my arm.      

Tattoo hygiene is an important factor. Using a new needle every time is essential. Nigel, owner of a tattoo center in Delhi, said, “I make it a point to use new needles and sanitize the machine after every sitting. It is essential. Earlier such rules weren’t followed. As a result, AIDS and other diseases spread through tattooing, leading to people developing myths around the art.”

Tattooing is an art and a lot of people have taken it up as a means to earn money. Various college students do tattooing as a part-time job to pay off their fees as well.


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