Indian woman held in Sri Lanka for Buddha image on dress

Released after she signed a statement and apologised

Sri Lanka police on Monday detained and questioned an Indian tourist who was wearing a dress with a print of the Buddha on it.

Wearing the image of the Buddha remains a sensitive matter in the island where a majority practise Buddhism. In 2014, a British tourist was deported for sporting a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm.

The 26-year-old tourist was on the island on a family holiday at a resort near Bentota, along the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Before the group’s departure from Colombo on Monday, some of them were shopping at an upmarket mall in the capital.

“Just as we were about to make the payment at the counter, three cops came up to us and said they needed to arrest and take my niece. We were terrified,” said Deepam R., aunt of the young woman. The 26-year-old and the rest of the family apologised to the police and said they did not intend to offend Sri Lankans, she said.

Taken to police station

“One of my nephews rushed to the store next door and bought a T-shirt, so my niece could wear it over the dress. But the police did not allow her to do that. They asked her to come to the police station with them,” Ms. Deepam told The Hindu over telephone, upon her return to Chennai.

Insisting that she would accompany her niece, Ms. Deepam went to the police station, where they were made to sign a statement and apologise, before being allowed to proceed to the airport for departure.

Legal offence

When contacted, the police said the family was let off with a warning.

“Wearing such a print is an offence according to the penal code. It is not just about the Buddha, wearing prints of deities of any religion is considered offensive,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told The Hindu . However, senior lawyer J.C. Weliamuna said: “Only defaming a religion is a criminal offence in Sri Lanka, wearing a normal print of the Buddha does not amount to that. This is ridiculous.”

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