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Skin colour bias is a serious issue that needs to be tackled like other socio-economic problems

Kavitha Emmanuel | 14 Sep 2012, Vol 3 Issue 37

Each year on Independence Day I get to recite our National Pledge: ‘India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it…”

Are we really proud of our varied heritage? Do we accept each other as fellow citizens on the same level barring differences over caste, creed, and particularly, colour? Is skin colour bias an issue in our country?

Let’s face it, says the author, ‘skin colour bias’ is an issue in our country (All Photos by Zippora Madhukar Photography) 

The answer is obviously ‘yes’! And I would not be completely wrong to assume that skin colour bias is more pronounced among the educated and the most forward sections of society.

I often wonder where we inherited such blatant ‘wanted: fair brides’ sort of racism. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of the Indian people have darker skin tones. That the Dravidians are dark skinned people is an obvious fact. How they got to buy into the notion that “fair alone” is beautiful is unsolvable. Why haven’t we opened our eyes to see beauty that is evident in our own people?

Many trivialize the issue saying that in a country that is battling graver issues like poverty, terrorism, crime and abuse, an issue like skin colour bias is of no importance. But why should we wait till we eradicate these graver issues to address an issue that exposes our primitive prejudices? I often wonder if the issue of skin colour is deeper that what we think it is.

As a mature society, 65 years into “Free” India, we should have moved on to much greater heights of showing the world how people from such varied cultures and skin colours can actually live together as one nation in harmony.

People often ask me what prompted me to initiate this campaign. If you take a look at those widely circulated fairness shade cards, I am an ‘inch’ above what people might call ‘dark’ (Yes, they have invented a measuring scale for skin tones!) I belong to the category of lighter brown-skinned people.

I have to admit I haven’t been the victim of any life-changing discrimination from my fairer counterparts. But I have often felt the pressure to preserve or save the colour of my skin from the sun so I don’t get darker. I still hear comments like, “You were a fair baby, but now you have become so dark. Have you been roaming in the sun?”

However, the reasons that propelled me to initiate the campaign were the real life stories of my friends and women I have counseled. I know girls who have been rejected by potential marriage partners, subtly denied jobs and abused by husbands and in-laws because of their skin colour. I have seen children face rude remarks and given nick-names for being dark skinned. I have felt like crying alongside a mom who couldn’t hold back her tears as she talked about how people differentiate between her two children and show preference for the fairer one.

One story that stands out is of a friend who was willing to marry a man in a wheel chair. She chose to see the person beyond the handicap he suffered. To her surprise his family rejected her because, as they say, “she lacked colour.”

I know girls who carry the scars of rejection for years and find it difficult to believe that they are of value.

I was not born a Dark is Beautiful campaigner. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the Change that you want to see.” Any change that I want to see has to begin with me. Campaigns bring awareness. Campaigns are not to judge people. I chose to become a campaigner against skin colour bias because I want to create a world free of skin colour bias for our children.

The Dark is Beautiful campaign is an awareness initiative that is trying to wake people up to the reality of beauty in all skin tones. John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” For us today, a thing of beauty is work forever! It’s the ‘get fairer’, ‘get slimmer’, ‘get younger’ kind of syndrome that is driving people crazy - leaving them feeling tired, unloved and unlovely.

What makes a person truly beautiful is more than just what is seen on the outside. We need to let values like kindness, acceptance, helpfulness, tolerance, integrity and honesty regain their rightful status in our world.

Let’s together pave the way for a new wave of Independence that helps people truly celebrate who they are no matter what their skin colour!

Kavitha Emmanuel is Founder Director, Women of Worth and the Founder of ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign. You can learn more about their campaign at http://www.facebook.com/darkisbeautiful
 

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