I went home after Sports Day, and much to my mother’s disappointment, I had quite a tan. It was a great source of consternation to her that I had become a shade darker and proceeded to suggest a whole bunch of things I should do to become “fairer”. Later when I paid my grandmother a visit, she too lamented the same thing. Although unperturbed, it did ignite the necessity to once again question everyone’s obsession with being fair.
Needless to say, the Great Indian Fairness Mela is very well documented. In 1978, Unilever launched the all-powerful Indian staple, Fair&Lovely which, over the years, has successfully spawned a wide range of face cleansers, whitening soaps, shower gels and even vaginal washes that promise to make skin fairer (at the end of five consecutive uses, as witnessed by the dark, sad lady transiently glowing at the end, ecstatic). In 2010, AC Nielson reported that this whitening product market had a net worth of $432million, growing at an average rate of 18% every year.
As we trace our history, we find that discrimination based on colour was an integral part of the then-prevalent caste system. Our country was first invaded by the Persians and then by the British and both the colonists ,being considerably fairer than us natives, continued this bigotry. But they aren’t just to blame. Let’s face the blatant truth; we have not just been victims of racism by Caucasian populations, but also by our fellow countrymen.
Indians have always found it difficult to come to terms with having dark skin. Lord Krishna, the literal translation of whose name is ‘dark-skinned’ is always portrayed blue. Evil has always been associated with dark. For instance, the Asuras are always portrayed with black skin, while Devas, their heavenly counterparts, are “pale as the full moon”, says a distinguished commentary.Even today this is prevalent, although more concentrated in the North than in the South, who in turn have developed an inferiority complex that stems from constant derogation. The term ‘Madrasi’ (which, BTW, when used by a non-Chennaiite to describe one, is an invitation to get punched in the face) is the quintessential term used to deride dark skinned South Indians.
The entire entertainment industry is obsessed with fair women. Rajnikanth (Thalaiva, I’m in eternity your fan) is dark skinned, but all his heroines have to be the ‘fairest of them all’. A prominent comedian is told in a Tamizh movie that a ‘fair person will not lie’, but he would, since he’s dark. Caucasian women are brought in to be the epitome of beauty. Most Bollywood actors and cricket players constantly endorse different whitening products. These ad campaigns are usually along one of the following lines:
1. Dark = Low self-confidence.
2. ONLY fair guys get the girl.
3. Dark girls are ugly.
WHEN IS THIS COUNTRY GOING TO REALISE THAT APPEARANCES ARE DECEPTIVE?
The prejudice against dark skin has become an infinite headed Hydra, every head slowly multiplying in every facet of our lives. Fair skin has transcended from an obsession to a fixation; these products continue to exist only because they are in huge demand. This continues to fuel the idea that intellect is directly proportional to skin colour.If a dark skinned person plays an intellectual, educated role, their skin tone is lightened. So we have led our educated ‘Don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover’ selves to believe that dark is essentially inferior. Do we not have a conscience? How can we allow the idea, “Fairer skin can substitute Hard Work” to propagate? Dark is beautiful. Fair is beautiful. Just as we here have a fixation towards fairness, white people spend hundreds of dollars in acquiring a tan. Ah, the irony of the world! Dark or fair, it’s no estimation of one’s ability. And certainly not of their character.
-Adithya Padmanabhan Venkatachalam