The popular, international television channel, Al Jazeera, has done what no other network ever contemplated doing. It featured a documentary exposing the insane obsession India has with whiter skin, not light hue but white complexion. For those interested in its content, please go to the online edition of Al Jazeera and do the search. It is simply incredible that the world’s best media in every aspect, be it news reporting, documentary, investigative journalism has not touched on this infamy in India.
I am referring to the BBC. The thing is now wide open, thanks to Al Jazeera. The documentary is revealing in that though it was known throughout the world the white skin thing exists in India due to its film industry, what was not know was the extent to which India has become obsessed with this cultural hedonism, philosophical nihilism and colonial sickness. The first attempt at fighting this man-made cancer, according to Al Jazeera, was the formation of Women of Worth (WOW). Based in the southern city of Chennai, in August it promoted a campaign called “Dark is Beautiful.” Al Jazeera went on to state that though WOW wooed many sections of India when it started in 2009, its “Dark is Beautiful” campaign was boosted to the skies when it interview Bollywood actor (actor not actress, the latter word is gone from the English language), Nandita Das. Not only was Das a supporter of WOW, but Das herself got actively involved in a campaign committee that saw advertisements ringing out with the catchy phrase, “Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful. In her interview with Al Jazeera, Das intoned, “As the issue impacts so many people, young girls in particular, by default I have become a champion of it.”
Then Das spoke the unspeakable. Yes, this is India, a great country, an enduring democracy and a nation whose judicial independence is second to none. Here is Nandita Das talking about her country, India. “I have had directors and camerapersons telling me that it would be good if I made my skin lighter as I was playing an educated, upper class woman.” Al Jazeera interviewed Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. She indicated that it stems from the caste system.
When I read that aspect of the analysis of India’s insane pursuit of white skin, I thought of the famous book by Guyanese academic, Kean Gibson. Gibson’s book on the racist nature of Hinduism based on its inherency of the caste system (the great Mahatma Gandhi is on record as saying that the caste system is an essential Indian value that should be accepted) makes for good reading. The Al Jazeera documentary found that because of the colour bias arising from the caste system, certain professions are exclusively reserved for Indians with lily white skin. They include aviation, films, and white collar occupations. Al Jazeera quoting from the popular newspaper, Indian Express, found that in the state of Maharashtra, a hundred low caste girls were selected for training on a government scholarship programme to be flight attendants (not air hostess, that word like actress is gone from the English language) and cabin crew.
But 92 were refused employment because none was white as snow which is the requirement in the flight industry. Only eight who were brown-skinned were given jobs, but only as ground staff. According to Al Jazeera, the lightening cream industry is one of the fastest growing profit areas in the Indian economy and in 2014 it is set to raise about US$3.6 billion. Indians buy lightening cream the way parents buy chocolate for their kids (I wonder if Indians prefer white chocolate to the normal, phenomenal dark Cadbury’s?) The Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan has come under the radar of WOW and other campaigners. He is featured in a white skin advertisement in which he tosses a tube of fairness cream to a youth telling him that white complexion is the success to life. WOW has filed court papers against the cream company, Emami, requesting that the ad be pulled and the campaigners intend to ask Khan to distance himself from the depravity.
But if you think the Khan placement was bad, there was a huge outcry in India last year when a cosmetic company launched a fairness product with the words, “lighten your skin around the vagina.” Bollywood filmmaker, Shekhar Kapur joined the outcry when he tweeted against it and according to Al Jazeera, within a day millions had supported the anger of Kapur. But let’s end on a curious note. Why would sex be more enjoyable if around the vicinity of a woman’s vagina, the skin is white? Are orgasms and skin colour related? Over to the Sigmund Freud scholars.
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