Giriraj Reminded Us Of An Inconvenient Truth

by Shefali Vaidya - Apr 2, 2015 09:39 PM
Giriraj Reminded Us Of An Inconvenient Truth

If an English-speaking model were to pose the same question, her statement would be lapped up as ‘showing our society a mirror’.

A few years ago, while backpacking in Europe, I had visited Rome. At the Colosseum, there were a few Indian and Bangladeshi vendors selling knick-knacks. After 21 days of continuous auditory overdose of Italian, French and Dutch, my ears were craving some good old Hindi. I walked up to a Sikh man selling little made-in-China replicas of the Colosseum. He started talking to me in Italian. I replied in chaste Hindi.

He looked surprised that I could speak Hindi. He asked me where I was from. “Mumbai, originally from Goa,” I replied.

“South India se ho?” (are you from southern India?) he asked.

“West India se,” (from western India) I replied.

Chehre se to Italy ke hi lagte ho, ‘klar’ vadda fair hai ji,” (You look like you are from Italy. Your complexion is very fair), he said, looking more than a little surprised.

The obsession with ‘fair klar‘ is not a new phenomenon in India. Yesterday’s comment by Union Minister of State, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and BJP MP Giriraj Singh merely reflects this ugly reality. What he said was crass perhaps, politically incorrect definitely, but it was the truth. An inconvenient truth that we refuse to accept. While I agree that Nigerian women have every right to feel outraged by Singh’s statement, it is time we Indians took a long hard look at ourselves.

Our newspapers carry front page advertisements of whitening creams. Hindi film after Hindi film heroes lust for gori kalaiyan (fair wrists) that drive them crazy. Heroines writhe in make-believe rains extolling the virtues of their gora rang. In the history of Hindi movies, there is one song that I can think of where the female protagonist wishes she had shyam rang (dark complexion) in exchange for her gora ang (fair skinned body). One song! Our movies are supposed to be the best mirror of our popular culture. Look at the number of songs we have that celebrate light skin, fair wrists and a fair complexioned body!

Open any newspaper on a Sunday and read the matrimonial section. Apparently, brides in India come in only two shades, fair or wheatish. There is no word called “dark” in the world of Indian matrimony. The bias for ‘fairness’ is everywhere. Glamorous television commercials assure gullible women that they can be a cricket commentator, airline pilot, stave off an unwelcome marriage, basically be a superwoman, as soon as they start using fairness creams. If you go by these commercials, a woman’s confidence, her ability, her success, her self-esteem, everything depends on the colour of her skin!

TV commercials for ‘Incredible India’ show white-skinned tourists having a good time in India, enjoying the hospitality graciously, wearing saris, doing yoga, riding in a coracle boat clad in a crumpled kurta and wearing a bindi, marigold garlands around their neck. Has anyone seen a Black tourist being the mascot of the Incredible India campaign?

Even ads for Indian ethnic wear like saris and sherwanis have started featuring white-skinned models. Fair complexioned, firang (European) looking actresses like Katrina Kaif are offered meaty roles in Hindi movies despite their obvious mismatching accents. Skin whitening treatments are a rage everywhere in India. Even small-hole-in-the-wall parlours in small towns feature a “whitening facial” on their menu. Heck, there are even fairness creams meant specially for men that leading actors from our movies endorse.

The truth is, we are servile in the face of white skin. Would the last Aam Aadmi Party government’s Law Minister Somnath Bharti have dared to conduct his infamous midnight raid on white women? Ask any African student who is here on a cultural exchange programme how he or she is treated in India. Some of the stories they have to share will make your toes curl.

We outrage spectacularly when a Giriraj Singh from Bihar’s Nawada district dares to speak the truth because he speaks the language of the masses. If he were a St Stephen’s alumnus talking in chaste English about the ‘privilege of an Italian born Sonia Gandhi’, media would be lapping up every single word of his. When an English-speaking Nandita Das talks about the bias against dark complexioned women, she is hailed as a role model, and rightly so. But when a Giriraj Singh voices the same opinion, everyone froths collectively at the mouth.

The writer is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist based in Pune.
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