I am an Indian female residing in India. I am a Hindu by birth and though religious, I do not let that reflect at my office.

I am deployed at a client location for the last three months and everything is going on smoothly. One of their female employees was on leave for a few months and returned recently to the office. She is a Hindu too and expresses it very openly. One of such things is distributing kumkum to the entire office staff which is ~20 members. Five of us are women and she takes the liberty of applying it on our foreheads and none of the other women object to it. It is a religious thing, you see.

But, I am not comfortable with such rituals at the office. I want to be clear about it but I do not want to get singled out for such reason. These things are very sentimental, religious and any 'no' would attract a lot of unwanted attraction, discussions among others.

How do I politely reject her religious advances?

P.S. For the uninitiated, kumkuma is a red colored powder that is applied on forehead as a dot or a line in Hindu culture, esp after certain religious rituals are done. A little googling would help more.

  • 4
    Hi! have you considered asking something similar at hinduism.stackexchange.com ? it is workplace-related question but as well somewhat culture/religion-related, maybe folks there know how exactly to say "no" appropriately Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 23:43
  • I was under the impression that touching someone, particularly their head was something one did not do in India. Is this not the case? If it is the case, are there "religious exceptions" to this norm?
    – JonSG
    Commented Feb 10, 2019 at 19:22

5 Answers 5


When she approaches you, say 'no thank you' and carry on with what you were doing. If she forcibly tries to put it on anyways, move your head out of the way and say 'really, I'd rather not'.

Do not try to explain why you don't want it, just say no and try to move on. If she's a sensible human being, she'll get the message.

If she doesn't get the message after that, then you don't have to be polite anymore, because she stopped being polite too.

  • 2
    Exzactly, just say No and leave it at that. DO NOT offer any reasons, and DO NOT get in to any discussion - whatsoever. If the other party starts talking, literally just move away.
    – Fattie
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 17:20
  • 40
    This would be a great answer in a world where nobody would criticize or judge the questioner for declining. In the real world not so much. Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 20:20
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    i feel like "How is this even a question worth asking?" goes a bit against Be Nice policy of this website. This is a site for questions, so maybe edit this line out? Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 23:41
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    Are you located in India or very familiar with Indian workplace culture? I think that is very important on this question.
    – David K
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 13:22

There doesn't seem to be any religious requirement to do it, because there are five other women who could have done the same thing and didn't, so from a religious point of view you should be fine.

Therefore, you tell her when you are alone with her that you don't like it. And if she doesn't agree with you, then you need to tell her that you will refuse very publicly to let her apply that red dot. If she doesn't get the message, then you do exactly that - you refuse to let her put a read dot on your face. Should she succeed, you wipe it off while she is still there.

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    The other five women all consent.
    – Summer
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 22:46
  • 5
    Are you located in India or very familiar with Indian workplace culture? I think that is very important on this question.
    – David K
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 13:22

You need to decide if rejecting that advances is important enough to you to be worth the upset/difficulty that it may cause.

If it makes you uncomfortable then the best, lowest friction, approach would be to talk to the woman making the advances. Do this nicely but be clear that you do not want to take part in the ritual.

If your colleague ignores you then you have the option to publicly reject any advances, as discussed in the other answers. Depending on your culture this may be considered rude or provocative so you might want to think carefully before doing this. Remember that taking any action (including private discussion) is likely to impact the way that other people see and respond to you.


I would like to support the answer by Markquo because for most people this would be the correct approach. However I fear (I don't know) that that may not be an effective strategy for your culture. So I suggest an alternative.

Speak to the other women

It may be easier to decline if you know you have support. You say they all consent too, and that makes you believe they aren't upset by it, but in fact you must appear the same to them. After all you have never public bridled at the act. And you mention that none of the other women did this before. Speak to them, even offer to be the first to decline, if they are only willing to support you and follow suit.

As a concerted group effort the potential backlash is lessened because united you position looks less fragile. Having support also gives you the confidence to not waver too quickly if she does protest.

Be sure to remain the utmost professional through all this in case things escalate. Then follow the previous advice but with support.


I don't think there's a way of being polite when all you want to say is 'No, thank you'. It's your decision not wanting anything sticked to your forehead, whatever are the reasons. Maybe, after saying 'no', if she's feels offended/ rejected, talk to her in private to clarify it's not personal.

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