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India’s Fairness Battle: Does this show deep-rooted Racism in the Country?

The color biased mentality is so strong in India that fair n lovely/handsome ads to people not getting jobs because of their complexion seems to be way too normal

Actress Nandita Das. Wikimedia

October 13, 2016: Greek philosopher Plato believed that ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’. Well, it seems more of a phrase now, as the world has created a check-list for determining the degree of beauty!

Anyone who doesn’t follow or fit in the criteria, people indulge in name-calling them, and in Indian society, the carnival of racism and sexism is an open secret.

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The colour biased mentality is so strong in India that fair n lovely/handsome ads to people not getting jobs because of their complexion seems to be way too normal. The issue is so deep-seated that every matrimonial advert are seen to be demanding for a fair bride or groom. Dark skinned are dirty and dirty enough to be treated as dirt. As the dirt is wiped out to make a place clean, the skin lightening products or cosmetics are provided widely in the market to wipe out the dirt from the skin. A report in The Guardian mentions that Indians consumed 233 tonnes of skin whitening products in 2012.

Poulami Nag, a journalist in Delhi, said, “I developed an inferiority complex when I was young. Repeated comments on my skin colour made me feel bad, which gradually faded with time.” She added, “More or less, the most common question I faced was, how will you even marry if you are so dark-skinned?”

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Slowly, the self-confidence starts chipping away with every comment and so-called ‘good suggestions’ that people give.

“Classmates would go on to say, the only thing I do not like about you is your skin colour; it’s so dark,” she said.

A few years back, a commercial for an “intimate wash” to whiten vaginas emerged, showing how a young Indian woman can use the product to successfully regain the attention of her boyfriend/husband.

The advertisement was widely panned, but matrimonial websites or newspaper columns clearly suggests the obsession India has for fair skin, at least on a woman’s face, as it remains one of the major keys to getting attention.

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The mass market whitening pioneer of India was “Fair & Lovely”, which was launched in 1975 by the Hindustan Unilever. Emami, an Indian consumer group came up with “Fair and Teen” for the teenage girls and “Fair and Handsome” for the men.

And, ‘Fair and handsome’ is promoted by one of the biggest superstars of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan.

Shabarni Basu, Assistant Professor of Kalyani University

Shabarni Basu, assistant professor of Kalyani university, Kolkata while talking to NewsGram said, “It is sad that in our country beauty is synonymous with fair skin. Fair skin is a pre-requisite when you get married or in other social engagements. I am a firm believer that in no way skin tone has got any role to play in how you look. It is your personality and the way you carry yourself matters.”

She further added, “It’s high time society rises above these prejudices and embrace people for who they are and not discriminate on some goddamn issues over which one has no control. Such objectification, especially in the case of women in modern society, has no place.”

Recently, actor Tannishtha Chatterjee was present at a popular Tv show, Comedy Nights Bachao to promote her film, Parched.

The actress thought it would be a regular TV affair and some random jokes but it almost turned out to be a nightmare for her.

Apparently, the hosts felt it was funny or an act of ‘roast’ to make jibes at Tannishtha’s complexion. In a national television, the host referred to her as ‘kali kalooti’ and felt nothing inappropriate or wrong in asking if the actress has been eating jamun (blackberries) since childhood because of which mooh kala hai (she is dark skinned).

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This shows how deeply embedded this issue is. It seems absolutely normal to make fun of something over which one has no control.

That being said, there is an urgent need to inculcate the self-acceptance in ourselves before blaming the world. Consciously or unconsciously one need to stop catering to the demands of others. Be it celebrities or common people, one need to accept their plus-size body, dark skin, crooked teeth, birthmark on the face, without trying to fit the criteria of beauty by doing plastic or cosmetic surgeries.

– reported by Pinaz Kazi of NewsGram. Twitter: @PinazKazi

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Why should we talk about Race?

Dr Kumar Mahabir, an anthropologist, brings out the topic of discrimination

Race has always been a big deal whenever its been spoken about around the globe.
Race has always been a big deal whenever its been spoken about around the globe. Pic by Dr. Munish Raizada taken at the Race exhibition at Chicago History Museum. November 2017
-By Dr Kumar Mahabir
Even academics like me who often view certain topics through the lens of race sometimes
receive negative attention and judgement. Some people feel that speaking or writing
rationally about race is counter-productive and even racist.
Indo-Caribbean people (Indians), in particular, tend to receive condemnation when they
examine topics on the basis of race. Indian victims are often criticised for reporting
On the other hand, Afro-Caribbeans (Africans) receive either indifference or praise when they discuss race. For example, the following comment by a black calypsonian, published in a Trinidad national newspaper, drew praises: “In the midst of black consciousness in the 1970s, Bro Superior told black people ‘No matter where yuh born, Yuh still African’” (Guardian Nov 12, 2017).
Discussing race objectively with empirical data and statistical evidence is not racist. Racism
is the belief that another race of people is inferior. This attitude results in discrimination,
antagonism and domination individually, politically, economically and otherwise.
Race, ethnicity, class, sex, religion, nationality, geography, etc. are valid, legitimate and
appropriate social categories of difference in examining historical and contemporary issues.
Why should someone who talks objectively about race be criticised as a racist? Should we
also condemn someone who uses sex as a mode of inquiry as being sexist? To do so would be ignorant, biased and unfair.
In a recent public broadcast, the Prime Minister of multi-racial Trinidad and Tobago (T&T)
advised some citizens “not to see race in everything we do” (Express Sept 22, 2017). This ill- informed statement was made in relation to the mixed responses he received when he
appealed to citizens to open their homes to displaced Dominican refugees who were devastated by Hurricane Maria.
On the contrary, people should be encouraged to “see race” as well as sex (gender), class, nationality, geography and types of social identity. Studying race can reveal differences in the form of disparities, disadvantages, inequalities, power and privilege which have structured human life in the past and present. To overlook race would be to ignore the elephant in the room.
Criminologist and social psychologist Dr Ramesh Deosaran wrote a book entitled Inequality,
Crime & Education in Trinidad and Tobago: Removing the Masks (2016). He found that there was a toxic relationship among race, class, gender, family and geography, resulting in African students performing the worst in the education system.
Deosaran wrote: “Wittingly or unwittingly, the education system, to a large extent, becomes a racially segregated system. And with academic achievement also stratified by race” (page 163). His data showed that while 47% of African students went to university three years after secondary school, as much as 72% of Indians did so, and 49% of the Mixed group also attended.
Prospective students of Whitman College in the USA are encouraged to enrol in its Race and Ethnic Studies programme. They are told that “ideas about race and ethnicity have been central at many points in world history and remain salient today, whether we talk about ethnic pride or ethnic cleansing, about multicultural diversity or racial discrimination.”
Race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably. However, race refers to biological features (bone structure, facial features, hair texture, skin colour, etc.) and ethnicity denotes cultural traits (history, customs, religion, family-type, values, music, food, etc.).
In the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) CSEC Social Studies syllabus, Section A
(Individual, Family and Society) comprises of a content section that explains characteristics
of the population. These characteristics include age, sex, occupation, religion and ethnicity. In the CXC CAPE Sociology syllabus under Unit 1, Module 3, Social Stratification is
conceptualised according to status mobility, gender, class, colour, caste, race and ethnicity.
The topic of race and ethnicity is studied not only in sociology but also in history,
anthropology, cultural studies, visual culture, media, literature, communication, law, health,
human rights, gender, political science, economics, geography, public policy, international
relations, social psychology, etc.
In a research paper entitled “Understanding race and crime in Trinidad and Tobago,”
criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad (2017) found that most of the murderers, victims, accused and prisoners are Africans. His disaggregated data demonstrated that most of the violent crimes are committed by blacks against blacks.
In 2011, former National Security Minister John Sandy said, “We must recognise that it is
people looking like me who are being murdered, mothers like my mother, God rest her soul, who are out there weeping more than any other race” (Express Sep 3, 2011).
Race has always been a major factor in voting in all general elections in T&T. This form of
ethnic polarisation has been well documented by pollsters such as SARA, NACTA, ANSA
McAl and H.H.B. & Associates Ltd. Most Africans and Mixed persons support the PNM
while most Indians vote for the PP/UNC.
Dr. Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books. He lives in Trinidad.