Dividing the World on the lines of Colour – Colour Discrimination-II

Read the previous section of this series here


Are Indians really colour-obsessed as a people as they are made out to be, while the rest of the world is a utopia for darker skin tones?

Even those who have rudimentary knowledge of our Purāñas will know that there was no concept of colour discrimination in ancient times. No mention of so-and-so was dark or fair-skinned, as a matter of discrimination.  However, disabilities got highlighted and often were associated with those of undesirable characters.

This again, was not to mock them for their disability but to show how one’s karma can affect one in subsequent births and how such characters piled on more bad karma in their present lives too, instead of trying to reduce their bad karma – like the hunchbacked Manthara and the blind Dhritarashtra. And then there were stories of abnormalities caused because of curses by sages and gods – like kabandha in Ramayana, having just two arms and a mouth in his stomach or Indra having eyes all over his body, or Ahilya being cursed to become a stone.

But did anyone get cursed to become black? Do enlighten me if you have any story to illustrate this.

Krishna (female name), Shaymala, Kali, Kalaratri, Neela, Nisha, Nishi…

…and more are the names given to Mother Goddess in her various manifestations. Many of these names are still proudly used by our women and girls. Devi is orange, red, green or black and many shades in between – Madurai Meenakshi is green, and Durga is golden. No one shuns the deities because they are black – they are all adored and would be adored for ages to come. I am not talking here of those who shun all Devi Devatas of the Hindu pantheon, but of those who are devout and even the not-so-devout Hindus.

Never one to lag behind in contributing to any derogatory impressions propagated by the West about Indians and Indian culture, Indian films in all languages – notably, Bollywood – have produced any number of films that have the dark vs light skin themes. Whenever the story demanded a plain or not-so-good-looking heroine, they dabbed a lot of charcoal on to her to make her ‘ugly’. The dark-complexioned heroines also undergo all sorts of tribulations, but they are very good in comparison to the fair but bad vamp and in the end, get the hero! I am not even starting on other things like poverty-porn that our movies love to showcase!

Colour-stereotyping in movies is as sickening as the portrayal of all temple pujaris as being avaricious and unscrupulous, and all Christian priests and pastors as being the paragons of virtue and compassion. If the filmmakers argue that they are not perpetuating narratives, they are not even fooling themselves. Keep doing it film after film and the audience is ready to believe whatever is portrayed as the gospel truth.

Even the folk legend behind the playing of Holi as a result of young Krishna asking his mother Yashoda as to why he was dark but Radha was fair, and his mother asking him to colour Radha to make her look dark, seems to me a latter day story. Holi is a spring festival that symbolizes colour and revelry, not a festival that perpetuates colour complex in – of all people – an avatar child. It is for this reason that I never liked the song ‘Yashomati Maiyya se bole nandlala, Radha kyon gori, main kyon kala’ in the movie Satyam, Shivam Sundaram. Krishna was a lovable, mischievous, compassionate and friendly avatar-child who was the darling of everyone in Gokul, regardless of his colour. Can anyone imagine Him giving a fig about His colour? I won’t buy the argument of poetic licence for this song, just as I won’t buy it for the interposing of Rama and Ravana (‘white’ Rama as bad and ‘black’ Ravana as just) in the Kaala story.

If one were to believe Devdutt Pattanaik, who, incidentally has written extensively on the black and white coloured Gods and Goddesses, we needn’t even go a century or a few centuries back. According to him, our comics sowed the seeds of colour complexes in us by portraying some gods as dark and others as fair! Does he mean to say that his generation, which grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha stories of our mythologies are all influenced by the colour of the gods and goddesses? I find this argument beyond silly.

Having successfully made the people of the countries they colonized into colour-complexed ones, the European and British colonizers fed them stories about our ancient scriptures to turn one against the other – this time on the basis of colour. To be close to powerful, one had to have fair skin. So the clamour to lighten one’s skin tone.

(Source: HT)

And then the West made their final conquest, this time a commercial one. Having created millions of insecure citizens in their colonies, all of whom wanted white skin, they had a brilliant idea – of selling their skin-whitening creams with the promise of fair skin! Not just to Indians and Asians, but to South Americans and even Africans!! They have made their billions (and continuing to do so) as they continue to perpetuate the myth of white being beautiful and black being ugly and inferior, creating generations of colour-complexed girls and even boys, going by the fairness creams for men that are endorsed by popular film stars and flooding the markets.

Leave alone the brown and yellow skin tones of Asians, which the hapless people are trying to lighten with harmful chemicals and surgical procedures, even Africans with their gorgeous mahogany skin are trying to lighten theirs! This is something that can’t even be contemplated. Did the Africans over the millennia despise their dark skin? Mind you, it is not the ordinary African, but those in the limelight – the models and stars – who are doing it, setting the example for the others to follow suit.

Some stories from across the globe:

  • How could, South Africa, the country that had suffered from the horrific effects of apartheid till the end of the 20th century, escape the black-skin complex?
  • This story from Peru tells the tale of discrimination against black Peruvians. Of course, here it is not just colour prejudice, but also one of racial discrimination. People of African descent everywhere have to contend with derogatory terms about their race as well as their colour.
  • In an interview on the topic of colour discrimination, British Singer Jamelia Davis takes it back to the Willie Lynch theory, where slave owners decided if a slave should work inside or outside the house, depending on their skin tone. She says:

“That way, you create segregation within the slaves themselves. It’s still working now – it’s you against your own and it’s so stupid.” She has also recounted in her blog the incident where she was asked by a middle-aged white woman if she had a ticket to travel by first class! And this was as recent as 2017.

  • I found this interesting article that talks of how even in 21st centuty America, colourism and shadism determine the suitability of a person for a job. It quotes some research findings too:

“In the U.S., it has been repeatedly proven that skin tone plays a role in who gets ahead and who does not. Despite the fact that the word colorism doesn’t exist, researchers and scholars are now systematically tracking its existence. A 2006 University of Georgia study found that employers of any race prefer light-skinned black men to dark skinned men regardless of their qualifications.”

Having seen so many countries coping with colour discrimination. one wonders why only Indians are branded as being colour-complexed and discriminatory? Agreed that it is an abhorrent thing to be happening in this day and age and the trauma suffered by the victims, especially young girls and women is unimaginable, but I still hold that it has been foisted on us.

We know too how the West comes out smelling of roses from muck of any kind – human rights violation, racism, colorism, whatever. They manage to do it by making others look bad, pointing fingers before anyone can accuse them of similar bias.

They do this by building careful narratives and putting out news reports in support of them. They pick out stray incidents that suit the narrative, carefully tweak and twist them, even manufacture incidents and stories, and then blow them up globally to brand an entire people, a nation, a race as perpetrators of the said crime. However much we want to believe otherwise, a lie repeated often enough and forcefully enough with ‘evidence’ sticks, and in time becomes a truth or at least a ‘false’ truth. And we have so many eager beavers rushing to deride themselves as a race, writing reams in support of the false narrative.

The aim has been achieved – of making the indicted people believe in the false-truth by their own! No wonder when you search specifically for ‘prejudice against black skin’ or any other search term even using specific words like Western or European in the search, you get a majority of results that talk of the Indian obsession with fair skin! I am not saying there is no discrimination based on colour in India, nor am I condoning it in any way, but to brand an entire people as colour fixated is in no way right.

Perhaps this is in line with the narratives that have already been peddled and perpetuated – of India being the rape capital of the world; of it being the most unsafe place on earth for women; of it being the most intolerant, etc. etc.

So why have we fallen into the trap set by western colonisers and the multinationals? The sad truth is that we have strayed so far from our roots, our heritage and culture that we have forgotten that we are as much a multi-hued as we are multi-cultural in our ethos. We never measured our worth in terms of our skin colour or tones. Time to hark back to our roots and begin taking pride in ourselves, including our skin shade. Ultimately, the only way to beat a narrative is to ignore it.

Perhaps then the multinationals and their desi counterparts would stop flooding the market with whitening creams and perhaps the likes of Rajinikanth would find other means to put out their party’s agenda and poll manifesto, or the likes of Ranjith to peddle their ideology. For Kaala is all about that and more, including the showcasing of Rajini’s ‘secular’ credentials (he is shown at the Id prayers wearing the skull-cap and not at the Aarti during Ganesh Chaturthi). For good measure, he has made it clear through his dialogues that he is not averse to pitting the south against the north, come elections.

And that last para is also my review of the movie!


Cover Picture: (Source: TheyDiffer.com)



Author: ‘Zephyraka Cybernag, is an award-winning blogger and writer, who blogs on social issues, culture, spirituality and family.

Published: Aug 18, 2018


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