July 05, 2011

Visit to India Part II - "An Ode to Fairness".

In India for a fortnight...

Billboards, hoardings, and TV /radio commercials universally shout out- "Fair is Beautiful"! That appears to be the universal mantra in India. Ever since I landed at the T3 Airport in India's capital city New Delhi, the one thing I could not help but notice is India's preoccupation with skin whiteners. 'To whiten' seems to be the eternal pursuit of every Indian complexion, be it male or female, old or young, South Indian or North Indian.

The rich, the powerful, and the beautiful are almost always light skinned. Whiteness automatically gets associated with a higher socio economic status and appears o get preferential treatment in every setting, corporate or personal. Consequently, there is great demand for cosmetics and medications that claim to make faces lighter. I have yet to watch more than 15 minutes of TV without coming across at least one or more commercials for whitening complexions; needless to say almost all models are 'fair'.

The 'whiteness' bug didn't spare the Indian gods too because some of the idols in the temple are light skinned while others are not ; there are the black granite idols and then there are idols where the Hindu 'gods' look more European, only dressed in traditional Indian garb. I wonder if the devotees coming into these temples observe a color code, and have to be 'fair' or 'dark' skinned to pray to their respective gods. Furthermore, I also wonder whether the sun god is in fact doling out punishment to the poor who swelter under his direct rays and consequently have darker skins while the rich can afford to hide and protect themselves from the wrath of 'Ravi' the sun god by using creams and remedies to lighten their sun damaged skin.

Does that mean that the Indian population shuns anyone who is dark skinned? Apparently not because Indians can be seen crooning and swooning over a tall, 'dark' and handsome Bollywood hero, or the tall and 'dark' President Obama. Denzel Washington may be the favorite Hollywood icon for an Indian female who spends most of her waking hours experimenting with face creams such as 'Fair and Lovely'. This same Indian female could also be participating in a protest against racial profiling and color bias even as she is telling her friend about this new 'fairness' cream she has tried out and strongly recommends. On the surface of it, her behavior is clearly contradictory, but here, in India, it is not perceived so. You could be a knee jerk liberal, yet pursue the fetish for a lighter skin.

Strangely enough Indian males are not judged by the whiteness of their skin, but most of them would seek a 'fair' partner if given a choice. An Indian male can be dark skinned and yet be successful and be appreciated in society like the many Bollywood heroes who have unprecedented fan following. The 'darkness' of the male can be overlooked if he is rich and or powerful; however, that is not true for the Indian female who has to pay a price for the color of her skin.

Despite all the corruption and poverty that one sees and experiences in India, 'fairness', and the pursuit of it, is clearly a national obsession, and has been for a while : )


Anonymous said...

Film stars should stop endorsing fairness creams because the 'aam junta' follow them blindly and that can be 'khatra'

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

It's a multi-million dollar industry here. A classic case of how advertisments have defined/re-defined notions of beauty in this country. The latest obsession is to flaunt measurability. fariness in five days, seven days etc.. else there is a money back guarantee. It's gross.

You are in Delhi?

Georg said...

Bonjour Id,

Yes, that's India. These people are a little crazy about color like we are about weight.


Me, myself and I said...

hmm, you seem to have a more sophisticated view on this skin color issue than I have. But I just can't take peace with it easily. I'm a dark-skinned indian girl who lives in a white country,where a lot of people telling me my skin is beautiful.
I still think this skin color ideals are not doing anything good to the world...