Discrimination due to skin colour must stop. Now.

(Representational picture)
(Representational picture)

A month ago the Indian government introduced a bill seeking ban on promotion of fairness creams and other products. The punishment, in case of a violation, could be a jail term of five years and a fine of Rs 50 lakh. Yes, this is an extremely commendable move and this social issue should have been discussed at length—that unfortunately did not happen. For years, we have seen fairness creams being promoted brazenly on television channels, radio and the print media. And of course, Bollywood has played its part. Mega stars including Shahrukh Khan and Yami Gautam have shamelessly featured in advertisements showcasing fairness creams.

The ads had one message—life was in shambles due to the colour of the skin and the moment the skin tone changed and became lighter or fairer, things brightened up. How terrible and absurd can that be!

India, like the world over, has been obsessed with fair skin and this is not just a development of recent times, the trait can be traced back to the country’s ancient history. We have been taught how the Aryans were conscious of their skin colour and therefore considered themselves superior to the Dravidians who had darker skin complexion.

This trait, unfortunately has stubbornly remained etched in the country’s social order. It is no secret how matrimonial columns read in India. It was considered absolutely normal to “want” beautiful, slim and fair girls as brides. Again if the groom was well educated with a good job, it was almost as a matter of right that he and his family would seek a beautiful and fair girl.

During my growing up years, I have seen how the society celebrated girls and women with fair skin tone. I spent most of my growing up years in Kolkata, a city known for its culture and intellect. But unfortunately things were not very different even there. In the 1990s and 2000s, being fair skinned was an advantage and clearly mostly those who qualified being “fair” often displayed a sense of superiority.

Barring Kajol, we hadn’t seen a Bollywood star, especially around that time who looked “normal” – like a girl next door. They had to be fair and being fair meant being beautiful.

Several comedians on television programmes or movies have ridiculed people especially girls for being dark. And worse, this was never considered rude or offensive. Small wonder that Hindustan Unilever Limited’s signature brand Fair & Lovely has been one of the most demanded products for many years. Words like “kallu” (slang for Black) and descriptions such as “kali bhains” (Black Buffalo) among many others were just as normal as they could be.

What is even more baffling is the fact that Indians often complain of racial discrimination when they go outside the country. Yes, they may have been subject to discrimination due to their skin colour but is it okay to complain when we ourselves are utterly racial in our innate behaviour?

Even today, many wouldn’t admit or agree but the society does discriminate against people of other nationalities who are dark skinned. Often they have to face up to excessive aggression by many of us and that is shameful. Simply put, many Indians complaining of racial discrimination are racists themselves and have biases against those with dark skin colour.

Earlier this year Norway banned Fair & Lovely creams as they found toxic ingredients in it posing health hazards. While it does make many feel elated that the ads for these products have been banned but it would have been better if they had been taken off the shelves for social and ethical reasons.

The silver lining: Things are starting to change. We have seen several activists including Nandita Das coming forth. It is also heartening to see things gradually change in Bollywood, which is nothing less than religion in India. Remember in the Ranveer Singh-Alia Bhatt blockbuster Gully Boy, the message was clear—shun Fair & Lovely or any fairness products.

As we gear up to celebrate yet another Woman’s Day on March 8, let us ensure that no girl or woman is discriminated because of her colour. It is not only important to ban promotion of fairness creams but it is time we ban the usage of those products.

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