By Tanmaya Das
First publised on 2021-07-10 11:48:43
After being continuously trolled on social media for her dark skin tone, Bengali actress Shruti Das was recently constrained to report the matter to the cyber wing of Kolkata Police. The matter is being investigated. But this incident has once again shown the deep-seated colourism bias in Indian society where fair skin is coveted and people with dark skins are considered second grade. Those who abused Shruti for being 'dark' sadly do not subscribe to the view that there is diversity in God's creations and not everyone is same but no one is a lesser being due to the tone of her or his skin.
Colourism and Racism are inextricably linked. The colour-based discrimination and racial biases are often witnessed in India and abroad. Many celebrities have spoken against the biases being promoted by fairness creams. Terms like racism and colourism are used interchangeably. However, the subtle difference is that the former refers to discrimination based on ethnicity, while the latter is based on skin complexion.
Several celebrities like Suhana Khan questioned the public's fixation with fair skin. She described her experience of being trolled for brown skin on Instagram. Actress Sai Pallavi also refuses to endorse fairness creams. Nandita Das supports the 'Dark is beautiful' campaign which defines beauty beyond colour. The campaign supports slogans such as 'Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful' to ensure that youngsters don't fall for the prejudices against dark-skinned girls.
In 1975, the fairness cream 'Fair and Lovely' became an instant success followed by other brands. Various adverts from the 1980s showed how dark-skinned women were unable to find husbands and jobs until they apply fairness creams to meet the standards of society. This story has continued till today. In fact it has expanded to pander to the male ego by introducing male fairness creams.
A long-term project based at Harvard University known as Project Implicit has concluded the preference of light-skin tone over dark-skin. Similarly, another study conducted by CNN in 2010 concluded that children of all races had connected positive traits such as 'smart' and 'pretty' with fair skin tone. On the other hand, negative attributes such as aggression was associated with dark skin tone. Today, the idea of colourism and racial bias has been cultivated amongst several sections of society.
Skins lightening creams or fairness creams are widely sold around the globe. Based on historical data, the market research firm, Zion reported that the global sales of fairness creams are predicted to reach $8.9 billion by 2024. Similarly, another study claim that the market revenue is expected to reach Rs 5000 crore by 2023.
The majority of dark-skinned people or those with dusky features are susceptible to hostility and rejection. Taking all of these aspects into account, most corporations have begun changing the names of fairness products and have included words like "radiant," "bright and clear," and so on. Also, most of the beauty pageant contests ask the contestants to meet the demands of Eurocentric beauty ideals. Many dark-skinned models struggle to achieve social acceptance. The wide lacuna establishes social discrimination between the various aspects of the society such as employability, wages, which often goes unnoticed.
Today several companies like HUL, P&G, L'Oreal dominate Indian Market. As per the World Health Organisation, mercury is the most common element found in fairness creams, lightening soaps that damage one's epidermis and health. Some skin creams contain steroids that cause skin discolouration, acne, pigmentation, skin allergies and so on.
The Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) has issued some guidelines to ensure that such adverts do not discriminate against dark-skinned people when the matter comes to employment, promotion and marriage. The government must realise the seriousness of such advertisements and provide education to the people to eliminate the discrimination between different skin tones. The idea of colourism sounds completely paradoxical since India is a tropical country with high melanin index amongst the people. With movements such as 'Black Lives Matter,' it is significant that India must stop conceptualising stereotypes that are ingrained in society.