Not ‘Fair’: It is time India did away with obnoxious societal standards of ‘beauty’ and ‘acceptance.’

From Indians to 'Brown Sahib & Sahiba,' how our insecurity with skin colour speaks volumes about our 'enslaved' minds.

A ‘fair’ Marketing campaign: Hi! Are you a young woman desperately clamouring for exposure? Does your boss not give you enough incentives despite your stellar performance? Is your family struggling to find you a decent groom? 

Look no further than ‘our product.’ You are just one step away from the success you deserve or courting the partner of your choice — use ‘our product.’ What product am I endorsing, you ask? It’s a fairness cream(Anti-climatic pause) 

No, I am not being sexist or racist — This is purely ‘business,’ we simply cater for the demand with our supply. No, we don’t care if you get long-term medical ailments. Our target customer base is too negligent and lazy to drag us to the court.

From the bridal columns of a newspaper to our dining table conversations, our obsession with skin colour is rather disturbing. According to the report based on a survey conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), at least 7 out of every 10 Indian women use fairness products to lighten up their skin tone. Another survey by YouGov discovered that 61% of Indian women felt that a fairer skin lay rudimentary to garner “social acceptance.” Now we know why an average Indian spends more money on ‘fairness products’ than Chai & Coca-Cola

It is rather unnerving to notice how a bulk of demand for fairness products in India comes from states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh despite having a higher literacy than the national average. 

The market of fairness products in India is evaluated at Rs. 5,000 crore and is expected to cross Rs. 10,000 crore in the next five years. Each year, the demand for fairness products increases by an average of 18% — the market for fairness creams alone stands at USD 432 billion! Despite 70% of our population having a naturally Wheatish skin tone, centuries of prejudice and oppression by people of other races and our own have ingrained a sense of inferiority in our minds.

History of colourism:

Though the divine characters of Lord Rama, Krishna, and Mahadeva are played by actors of lighter skins, our ancient religious scriptures and divine photo-frames portray the deities with darker (bluish) complexion. Some historians opine that “being dusky” was not perpetually rendered as a negative attribute.

Other historians suggest that the ‘varna’ (colour) system mentioned in the “10th Mandal” of Rig Veda was based on complexion, where people with lighter skin shades sat on top of the social hierarchy. In the later Vedic period, a person’s Varna went on to determine an awfully lot about his life, and the cultural obsession with skin colour started transcending all sane limits. 

The ‘enlightened’ Britishers, during the colonisation of India, did not refrain from categorising us as ‘sub-standard citizens’ given the rudimentary difference in our skin colour. Now, imagine the pain that our freedom fighters would have gone through if they had been around to see the progeny of the nation (liberated by them) applying skin-bleaching creams to look like their oppressors! 

In India, the prejudice is simple — darker-skinned people are ‘filthy,’ ‘poor,’ and blatantly ‘ugly.’ It curls my blood (and it should curl yours, too) to see fair-skinned Bollywood stars applying makeup to darken up their complexion before playing marginalised or ‘lower-class’ characters. These educated illiterates use the grand rostrum to reinforce stereotypes and make money out of it!

The health hazard associated with ‘fairness creams’:

In 1975, Hindustan Unilever introduced their new product, ‘Fair & Lovely,’ sending the Indian cosmetic market into a frenzy. They made a killing by creating the ‘solution’ of a ‘problem’ that did not even exist! In the early 90s, the Emami group targeted the other half of the demography by launching the ‘Fair & Handsome.’ 

Usually, fairness cream brands in India get away with moronic ad campaigns as they gaslight the insecure Indian youth into falling prey to their marketing shenanigans. Though they will advertise these products on every TV channel and social media site, they shall carefully elude a crucial part that comes with the product they sell — steroids. 

Most fairness creams in India are rife with a steroid called Betamethasone. Eminent dermatologists in India have expressed great caution against the use of these ‘man-made hormone-resembling chemicals.’ These chemicals fall under the sub-category of ‘corticosteroids,’ medically prescribed by qualified professionals for reducing skin inflammation (as they are immuno-suppressants) to cure diseases like eczema, psoriasis, etc. 

An undiagnosed use of these products can cause:

  • fading and thinning of the skin;
  • itching, pimples, rashes;
  • Hypopigmentation, Hyperpigmentation;
  • Hirsutism (excessive growth of facial hair);
  • Topical Steroid Damage;
  • and Rosacea.

In 2017, the Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL) filed a petition before the Supreme Court highlighting the crux of the matter and seeking a prohibition on the sale of these products without a prescription by a qualified dermatologist. Today, although such creams have been put under the category of ‘Schedule H Drugs,’ the bigger issue is far from fixed!

The Duality of Modernism:

The Indian economy has surpassed the gargantuan figure of USD 4 trillion. We are all enthralled to witness how our country, which lived under colonial subjugation for centuries, is pioneering in the new world order through its spectacular growth model. However, there is one domain that we still haven’t mastered or decolonised — ‘accepting ourselves for who we are!’ 

Today, upon seeing a white tourist, we smarm toward them and seek selfies. We become exceedingly subservient in our conduct, forgetting the difference between hospitality and servility. Though they do not rule our lands today, they still rule our minds (subconsciously) — a bitter consequence of centuries of colonisation. 

Despite being the sheer victims of ‘colonial racism,’ we have failed to jot down the draconian undercurrent that shaped a lamentable tale of oppression by the Whites on the Non-whites. Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh had once observed, “The Whites (British) shall go, and the Wheatish (Indian natives) will follow their footprints.” 

Today, when we hear that a groom’s family called off a wedding simply because the bride is not ‘fair,’ and the rest of us ‘Brown Sahibs’ spinelessly nod and comply, at least sub-consciously (we are aware that) — We are a part of the problem!

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