Who is “Allowed” to Wear a Bindi?

There has been a torrent of online attacks on non-Indian women who wear the bindi. As a non-Indian woman wearing a bindi with a colourful experience of online attacks, I wanted to write about this topic. Cultural appropriation is a very sensitive subject, many people fear that the deep significance of a tradition or symbol will be lost or misused if others start to use it. The bindi is an iconic South Asian symbol, so should women who do not originate from South Asia be allowed to wear one?

haldi kumkum thali navdurga Durga

Our world is shrinking, people are mixing, cultures are merging (our marriage is one example of that) and therefore cultural appropriation is inevitable, but is it always a bad thing? Many think it is. 

I personally feel we should all attempt to understand and acknowledge the significance of the symbols we adorn ourselves with. We should learn what our wardrobes represent and assess whether that conflicts with our personal ethos. We should learn the history and try to understand the sacred significance of the things we wear so we are able to respect them.  If we all took more time to understand the cultures of the people who live among us, surely it would go beyond dressing appropriately and dissolve some poisonous prejudices.

My experience, as a non-Indian woman married to an Indian man living in India, has been the opposite. If I don’t wear a bindi, people get upset! On the days I have forgotten to wear a bindi, aunties have offered me a bindi from their handbags, my grandmother-in-law has been deeply hurt and a priest appeared from nowhere whilst I was waiting in a restaurant and poked me between the eyes with a stick covered in vermillion.

As someone who will not do something just because someone has told me to, I had to make a choice whether or not to wear a bindi. I asked Indian women what the bindi meant to them and tried to uncover the ancient symbolism. Afterwards I thought long and hard about what the bindi means to me.

I wear a bindi as a reminder that I am more than this body, I am a soul. When I notice the small red dot in the mirror, I find focus. I am conscious that there is more to me than this reflection! I also didn’t want to upset my husband’s grandmother.

Obviously you don’t need to have a spiritual connection with the bindi to respect it, many Indian women wear a bindi as a fashion accessory. We do, however, need to respect that the symbol is sacred to some if we choose to wear it. Unfortunately, even if you do respect the bindi but are not South Asian, you may still be subjected to those online attacks if you chose to wear one. I feel like those who make this malicious attacks are disrespecting the bindi themselves by being so cruel and hateful. 

We must remember that whilst the cultural appropriation police are busy behind their computer screens attacking young women for wearing a bindi, there are many more South Asians who feel honoured that the world finds the bindi beautiful. Not only should we be respectful to cultural and sacred symbols, we should  also respect each other.

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