India's love for fair skin is evident in too many ways to count. It is mentioned in almost everything we say, be it poetic taunts (kaali kaluti baingan looti) or comedy (As Saikiran in his stand up comedy said "Seeing my colour my father said Aiyyo so loudly, half of the hospital thought I was a girl", two deadly curses rolled in a single sentence). Even our superstitions revolve around it with people suggesting that dark-complexioned people shouldn't consume tea probably based on the scenario of regular eggs being dipped in tea water then as they get a brown shade being sold as 'desi' eggs. These 'egg-heads' forget that the English are as 'fair' as they used to be despite fighting wars for tea. So how did this soft racism settle in our country?
Symbolism and History to Blame?
Physical beauty is one gift of fate that hard work cannot achieve completely. The preference of beauty also might have depended on fate in terms of the personal choices of individuals before being contaminated by societal prejudice. Since time immemorial, white has been associated with purity, truth, God, angels and everything right while black implies the strength, latency, individuality, Satan and the like. Before the wave of globalisation, the dark-skinned people usually populated the equatorial regions and the fair-skinned ones lived in the temperate and Arctic circles. The reason behind this was equatorial regions were closer to the sun and received more sunlight, hence more natural agriculture and outdoor chores while colder regions developed civilizations much later and could not depend solely on nature for their needs. To shield the people of the equatorial region from harmful UV Rays, their skin adapted to a darker colour so that less sunlight reaches their bones. Similarly, the ones living in colder regions developed a lighter skin tone so that even the rare sunlight can be absorbed in their bones and they do not get Vitamin D deficiency. As they had fewer natural resources, they focussed on industrialization and soon they assumed the role of colonisers and the dark-skinned ones became the colonised. Due to this fair skin began representing the culture and intellect of the rich European and Caucasian race while the dark skin became a symbol of poverty and barbarians. It is seen everywhere from Shakespeare keeping the demon-like human Caliban black, Hitler calling only the fair and blue-eyed Germans 'fit' or the Indian Airlines preferring fair-skinned air hostesses only.
From Marriages to Movies
Most Americans and Europeans occasionally long for the suntanned olive skin but Indians have inoculated the desire for fair skin in their psyche. "Fair and Lovely" is one of the most famous beauty products in India with a market cap of 80% of the skin lightening cream market in the country. Now it is known as "Glow and Lovely" in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests. This addiction to fair skin is endorsed by celebrities and is the most common advertisement on television. It is appalling to see matrimonial offers in newspapers by 'handsome, successful and intelligent' men looking for 'fair-skinned, 5.5 feet, good at domestic work wife'. Products like Fair and Lovely will have outstanding sales until this unjust trend and expectation continue. Bollywood has promoted this too with the lyrics of countless songs like Gore Gore mukhde pe kala kala chashma, Goriya chura na mera jiya, Gore Rang pe na, Kali kali aankhen gore gore gaal, or the rave repeat track of Main Hoon Na, Gori ×6. Sings often feature background dancers from European countries with white skin and blonde hair. It is also copied in the so-called gentlemen's game of cricket where the cheerleaders are white to satisfy the fair-ish or rather a feverish fetish of Indians.
Pigmentocracy - the fifty shades of fair
Pigmentocracy is a system of social or class distinction based on skin colour, discrimination in this regard can be seen in many professions. A 2006 study showed that face skin applicants received better ratings than their dark-skinned counterparts. This bias is present especially in the modelling, marketing and hospitality sector. Recently Vogue was criticised for showing Black models in a eurocentric lens with their skin darkened unnaturally and a gloomy environment in the shoot. The murder of George Floyd got the conversation started on racism and bought social awakening for people in South Asian countries and their diasporas. The Netflix series called Indian matchmaking also sparked attention after its protagonist hunts down potential spouses for clients, put light-skinned women and men on a pedestal, championing their complexion as an desirable attribute. What most people miss is the fact that our confidence, nature, habits, likes, dislikes, attitude make us what we are and not our skin colour. It is high time we stop eulogising fair skin and focus on the person's personality as a whole. Our skin colour is an inheritance while our intellect is our achievement, it is essential to accept diversity in appearances to have a non-prejudiced outlook.
After all, when you receive a gift, the wrapping paper however beautiful, goes to the dustbin and what is within makes you love or hate it. Isn't the analogy applicable to the human covering called the skin?
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