We’re all feeding the fairness fetish

Avantika Debnath
Avantika Debnath, HR professional, writer, dancer

By Avantika Debnath

There was a familiar excitement in the house. There were all those sweets and snacks again. Dhara was wrapped in the same maroon sari once more. (Maroon made her look bright.) Finally, the awaited guests arrived, half a dozen of them. Mom and masi (aunt) rallied towards the living room while granny was busy in the kitchen preparing some of her specialties. When I advanced towards the arena, munching on a samosa, she called out, “What on earth do you think you are doing by going in there?”

“I just want to peep in and check out the groom-to-be,” I said.

“You could do that when your turn comes, and that will only happen after Dhara is done with, so better hide yourself in some inconspicuous corner of the house.”

I haven’t been able to discover whether it was my fault or hers. I was a little more fair-skinned than Dhara, my elder cousin, or maybe she was a little duskier than me. Every time the ladkewaley (potential groom’s family) came to see her, I would be hidden in some corner room, or preferably driven out of the house.

Despite all the sweets, snacks, granny’s specialties and the mystic maroon sari, Dhara was “rejected” for the fifth time this year. Uncle was hoping to get their daughter married by the time she turned 28, but chances were very slim.

Dhara held a degree in Carnatic music, and was a PhD from Germany. But nothing compensated for the tint she was born with. The prospects who rejected her nowhere equalled her accomplishment, and yet they reserved the right to gaze at her top to bottom and excuse themselves.

I am pretty sure this is not a unique scene performed solely in my family. The age-old taboo of dark skin is as fresh as it was centuries ago. The Sunday newspapers are still replete with “fair-skinned bride wanted” slogans. Matrimonial sites have added a new dimension to it by allowing bride-seekers to projecting their imagination into almost comical paragraphs: ‘M.Tech from reputed institution, well-settled in U.S.A seeks educated, homely, ace in household chores, peach-complexioned bride. Wheatish complexion kindly excuse’. And why blame the men when we ourselves feed their appetite? Do we not hover through the internet Googling, ‘How to get fair complexion naturally?’ Do we not torture our skin with every whitening product introduced in the market? Do we not buy our foundation a shade lighter than our own skin tone? Apparently, India alone serves as the largest market for skin whitening products — India’s collective expenditure on fairness products sums to an average of over $400 million a year. This in turn displays how uncomfortable we are in our own skin, literally.

In a country like ours, television plays a major role in informing the opinions and attitudes of the population. Commercial-makers should refrain from telecasting deceptive advertisements that feature a fair-skinned girl being selected in an interview by virtue of her complexion. I, being a recruiter, have never rolled out an appointment letter based on a candidate’s skin tone, and neither witnessed any such situation. Merit has been showered on all equally by the Almighty, irrespective of the skin tone. It’s up to you to sharpen your skills. You don’t really have to dip your daughter in haldi paste daily to brighten her up. She can be successful in whatever she wishes to do with the very skin she is born in. She can be a great scholar or a happy homemaker. All we need to do is broaden our frame of mind, not brighten our complexions.

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