Popular tattoos at odds with school indiscipline policy

August 3, 2012

If schools in Bhutan go by the education ministry’s policy of zero tolerance to indiscipline, many students in the country can be punished for tattooing. Tattooing falls under level one offence in the school discipline policy.

A survey done by a high school in Thimphu showed that 26.3 percent – 259 out of 986 students – have tattoos on their body. 

The survey report says that in every class, more than five students have tattoos on their body. Some 191 students have tattoos on their hands, 46 students on their legs and feet, 16 students on their body and five on their neck. One student has a tattoo on the face.

A teacher said the ministry’s policy is not clear and could be interpreted in any way. According to the school discipline policy, if a student creates minor disturbances to the school order, it is a level one offence. Tattooing, which is bodily modification, doesn’t fit in the category.

“The policy is not clear. It is flawed,” the teacher said. It was made without a detailed study so that it could be showed to the stakeholders on the deadline, he added.

If a student has a tattoo, that does not mean he or she creates disturbance in school. The policy contradicts itself, he said.

Such a policy, he said, is difficult to be put into practice in schools. “If a student has a tattoo on his or her body, it cannot be erased. The policy would have him or her punished every day. That does not make any sense,” he said.

Another teacher said it would be difficult to implement the policy in the schools. She said it would be easier if the ministry banned tattoos in schools altogether.

“We can’t go on stripping every student to see whether he or she has a tattoo,” she said.

An education official said that students having tattoos on their body should not be a big issue. He said schools have to respect student’s personal choice.

“There is nothing to worry about as long as a tattooed student is doing well in his studies,” he said.

A Buddhist scholar, Khenpo Jangsem Tashi, said it is unbecoming of a Buddhist to pierce one’s body and hurt oneself. Bodily modification, he said, brings an unpleasant sight.

Ritu Raj Chhetri, a lawyer, who runs a private law firm in Thimphu, said Bhutan has no law on bodily modification or tattoos. However, he said, since many young people are seen with tattoos, there is a need of a law that says whether a person can have a tattoo or not. The issue, he said, is one of respecting a person’s fundamental right and country’s tradition and culture.

In 2009, some tattoo artists submitted a proposal to the regional trade office of Thimphu to start a business. Trade officials rejected the proposal.

Sources say that in recorded history, the earliest tattoos can be found in Egypt during the time of the construction of the great pyramids. When the Egyptians expanded their empire, the art of tattooing spread as well. The civilizations of Crete, Greece, Persia, and Arabia picked up and expanded the art form. Tattooing spread to China around 2000 BC.

Tattoos are created by inserting coloured materials beneath the skin surface. Doctors say tattooing involves a lot of risk because needles are used. It is invasive procedure and piercing skins increases the chance of getting HIV and Hepatitis B and C infections. Skin can also react to the dye.

By Pema Tenzin

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