Sometimes I like to go through the “matrimonial” section of the newspaper. I suppose it is something we all did when we were children. The layout of the pages has come a long way since I first saw one. The level of segregation is high and there are specific sections for each caste, religion or community but there is one thing that has not changed.
“Bride wanted 22-25 slim FAIR beautiful caste no bar”
Open any matrimonial pages in any newspaper or any website and the demand for fair brides is endless. I cannot deny that there are women looking for “tall, fair, handsome men” as well, but they are nowhere near the number of men seeking their white angel. Many people have told me that this insistence on fair skin is a North-Indian trait. At first, it seemed like there may be some truth to that but having lived in the South, I would have to say the love for fair women is all pervasive.
I have a friend; she’s youthful, educated and a really fantastic person to be around. Her family is sensible, urban and realistic. Yet certain factions of her family have always reminded her that she is less fair than her sister and that makes her less desirable as well.
But that is not the end of it. A few months ago I was having coffee with another friend in Delhi. Now this young lady was talking to me about her parents trying to fix her wedding. Her sister had been married a few years ago and she told me that her parents would fortunately not have to pay as much dowry for her because she was fair and has clear white skin.
So it would seem that the colour of the skin is used to decide how desirable a woman is. To decide what her status in a family would be. To decide how much it would cost to send her off to marriage-land.
If it is a burden to have a daughter, a dark skinned one is even more so.
If it is a sound financial decision to get a fair wife, it seems like an even better one to get a dark skinned wife.
The one thing that is absolutely clear though, is this: how men view their prospective wives is scary. Who she is seems irrelevant in the face of what she is.
So, what is India’s obsession with fair skin?
The first thought that comes to my mind is that perhaps this is a macro sub-conscious reaction to being bereft of our British overlords. They assumed a social and political position higher than Indians while in India and once they left that was the status every Indian aspired to. That’s great. But somehow that is the pigment of skin that every Indian is aspiring to as well.
That alone, however, cannot be it. A college professor once told me of a very fair woman who took a bus in Chennai wearing a sleeveless saree blouse. She raised her arm for support while she was standing. A man continued to stare at her. Within a few minutes his stares turned to insanity and he bit her upper arm. Despite the many passengers in the bus who tried to stop him he would not let go of the flesh between his teeth. Eventually, he bit a huge chunk of skin right off her.
Is this how the desirability of a fair woman translates?
Or perhaps the Indian obsession with “whiteness” has to do with the Indian obsession with purity. As I understand it; white is peaceful, holy and pure. Black is dark, tainted and murky. A fair woman is more likely to seem pure and chaste.
Could it really be that we are naïve enough to think that something like the colour of our skin is really indicating our propensity to chastity?
Whatever the reasons may be, the consequences for this pursuit of the white woman are not subtle. Even young girls now understand what it means to be dark-skinned and how they will have to counter and tackle that their entire life.
Just as an experiment, I went to every apartment in my building (there are 8) and asked to borrow a tube of “Fair and Lovely”, I had five tubes by the time the experiment was over.
To me that seems like proof that everyone is trying to get fairer, whiter and more beautiful.
The scary and serious part of this premonition is that half the women in my building are not even what I would consider dark-skinned.
So is it no longer just a race to be white but instead to be whiter every day?
In our economy the fairness industry and trade may be thriving thanks to the superficiality we propagate. The “respect industry” (if it exists) is being rubbed out by every dollop of fair and lovely we apply on our pretty faces.