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Many South Asians born and raised in the West have a complex relationship with their ‘Indianness’.For many of us, learning to be comfortable in our own skin is a long and often painful process.As within nearly all other religious traditions, this may be true of some — but definitely not all — of its strands.Even Hindus (especially those of us who are physically far away from its consequences in South Asia) sometimes forget its more problematic elements.And for South Asians living overseas, publicly celebrating our cultures can be uncomfortable, or downright scary.Despite strongly identifying with my Hindu Indian heritage, I wouldn’t consider wearing a bindi in my day-to-day life for fear of being treated differently, or even vilified — not an unreasonable fear in these times.In India, bindis are widely worn by women from many different religious and cultural communities, including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Catholics.
I thought about the time I was 12 and proudly wore a bindi to school every day — a ritual I soon abandoned for fear of looking too ethnic.
Or the number of times I’ve struggled to broach the topic of bindis and paint-on third eyes to friends who regularly wear them to festivals or parties.
Then, on a recent Saturday night, inspiration struck in the unlikeliest of places.
But while most would agree that wearing a headdress amounts to cultural appropriation, opinion on the bindi isn’t so straightforward.
This may be because not everyone agrees on what the bindi symbolises.
Nonetheless, some argue that the religious significance of the bindi is lost on many South Asians today, meaning that it’s not such a big deal if other people wear it without understanding its cultural significance too.