A fair skin is so deeply embedded in people’s psyche that those dark are always treated as inferior.
And leading this crusade is actress and social activist Nandita Das. She says: “From the time I came into the public domain and have been written about, nine out of 10 articles start by describing me as being dusky or earthy. A reference to the colour of my skin doesn’t escape the best of journalists. The prerequisite for being an actress is to be fair”.
Not just this, but fairness is also associated with beauty, which may be a completely warped sense of attractiveness. But this is reality, and not just in India, as I would presume after the recent attacks on Miss America.
When Nina Davuluri, an American of Indian origin, was crowned, social media networks were agog with hate messages. Many of these referred to her dark complexion, some went higher up on the cruelty index by calling her a terrorist.
However, one must not forget that Davuluri had after all won the Miss America title. Would someone in India with Nina’s skin colour ever have won a beauty contest? No way. She might not even have cleared the first round.
India — which never tires of accusing the rest of the world of being racist and anti-black or brown — is probably one of the most prejudiced places on earth where a fair skin is so deeply embedded in people’s psyche that those dark are always treated as inferior.
In recent times, this bigotry has made such a deep dent in the social fabric that even dark men are finding themselves as some sort of outcasts. Movie stars like Shahrukh Khan have been promoting fairness creams for men, and cosmetic companies are seeing their markets grow beyond the traditional sphere of women’s beauty. They have always been seeking to lighten their skins, if for nothing else, at least to find good husbands.
And husbands do not come easy for dark women; most matrimonial advertisements in India ask for “fair” brides. Some add “beautiful”, conveying a strong association between the two.
So, desperate parent use words like “wheatish” to describe a dark daughter in an advertisement seeking a groom. But, by now everybody knows that this is a euphemism for dark.
What is worse is that even as far employment opportunities go, fair women seem to have a better chance than those dark.
It is a cruel society all right that robs a dark woman or girl of her self-esteem, pushing her to reclusiveness and a lonely existence with very few friends.
Therefore, the campaign by Das and others are indeed welcome, and may well lead to a change in the community’s attitude.
Still, what about fair women joining this fight to bring about cheer in the life of a dark woman. Or man.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]