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An 'unfair' obsession that plagues India



Matrimonial advertisements in India seeking brides are normally more than specific. She must be fair (light skinned), if not white! During the first season of the Indian Premium League (IPL) cricket tournament, there were allegations of maltreatment of some dark skinned cheer leaders. They were allegedly underpaid compared to their white counterparts and were even not allowed to perform during matches because of their coloured skins.

Yet, India and Indians were outraged when the Indian actress Shilpa Shetty faced racist slur on Celebrity Big Brother TV show in Britain. The contradictions do not reflect India's dichotomy but bring out a sham the nation has long been nursing rather very secretly. India is essentially racist. And the scourge is multi-layered or multi-tiered.

In the Indian capital city, Delhi, and some other north Indian cities a sight is rather common. People literally stop to see black African students who are on study tour of the country.

An African man who was travelling in Rajasthan with his white South African wife could not complete his tour of the state because he and his wife apparently made a rather odd couple which Indians failed either to accept or even think of. He with his wife offered a more amazing sight that the beauty of the land; sculptures of Rajasthan. The couple cut short their tour of India and went back to South Africa.

Diepiriye Kuku, a black American PhD student in Delhi School of Economics, experienced the best of love and affection in private spaces in India. The scene was diametrically opposite in public spaces. Crude and aggressive curiosity of people embarrassed him almost everyday and felt being denied of his essential humanity. In its virulence, racism in India isn't really flowing undercurrent; it is palpable which often turns aggressive.

The bane isn't yet apartheid in the sub-continent but is certainly more than just personal preferences. It is systematic and is indeed congenital. Even in twenty first century Indian society remains firmly ingrained in racism which we had seen in nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe and the United States.

It "is colour-coded in black-and-white terms" where "white is intrinsically superior and desirable; black is inferior and undesirable." In Indian concept of beauty men and women with dark complexions or deep tanned skins are ugly and therefore are never even considered worthy in marriage markets.

To be born with darker skin pigmentations in India is an evident disadvantage. And for a girl it is all the more. From day one of her life on this planet turns into a burden — she become an untouchable.

Indian perception that pale is lovely and eternally beautiful has become genetical, bolstered further by those abysmally abominable TV commercials which keep proclaiming 24x7: "Don't get sunburnt, use skin whitening creams, or you'll end up dark and no one will marry you." Pregnant women in rural India still believe that they will give birth to pale skinned babies if they drink milk of a white cow.

In India, the market size of fairness creams and skin bleaches is expanding at a meteoric speed. It is growing at 15 per cent and stands today with a size worth one billion US dollars approximately. It constitutes 47 per cent of the total market of all skin care creams in the country. Men's fairness creams, available in Indian markets, constitute a little over one third of the total market share of fairness creams and this segment is growing at a rate of 35 per cent per year as against 15 per cent growth rate of female fairness cream as men using fairness creams has gained wider social acceptability.

This is bizarre and reflects India's fairness mania. One may have to live for a thousand years and has to be really lucky to find out a single matrimonial advertisement in India seeking "attractive, dark-complexioned life partner."

Even as the world seems to have moved ahead and has gone multicolored Indian society still remains deeply embedded in black and white colour codes.

Indians' response to their colour-coded racism is normally clichéd. They say it is not racism but is a matter of personal preference. Individuals in India, they say, prefer paler skins than people with deep tanned. But why is this preference gradually gaining apartheid proportion? Why is lighter skins considered more beautiful and, most importantly, superior? There are no acceptable answers given so far and do not expect one in next hundred years during which India's obsession with pale skins will only gain deeper societal roots.

The country was ruled for over two hundred years by imperialists during which the Indians felt that white men and women were both intellectually and physically superior to them.

A yarning had since developed in them to become fair as light skins were equated with all kinds of superiority. And when seen this point of view, India's struggle for independence from British imperialism was steeped in contradictions.

A big section of Indians were against total independence and favoured continuation of white rule as they felt the brown natives would not be able to offer better governance only because they were not as superior as the white masters. After over sixty years of independence a section of Indians still believe that the whites, whom they still address as 'goras', were superior race.

Therefore, little wonder that majority of the Indians still believe that white Bill Clinton was a better American president than his heir, African-American Barack Obama.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.



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