In all fairness, shun the dark bias

Shruti Das, a 23-year-old television actress in Bengali serials, reached out to the Kolkata Police via email in July 2021 to report that she had been trolled for over two years due to her dusky complexion.
Last Updated : 19 August 2023, 02:07 IST

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While granting divorce to a couple, a division bench of the Karnataka High Court recently ruled that a wife insulting her husband due to his dark complexion amounted to cruelty under the Hindu Marriage Act.

Shruti Das, a 23-year-old television actress in Bengali serials, reached out to the Kolkata Police via email in July 2021 to report that she had been trolled for over two years due to her dusky complexion. As her serial gained popularity, the online attacks increased, accusing her of securing the pivotal role solely due to her proximity to the show’s director rather than her skills.

Dipali Sagar Devey, aged 25, took her own life in Surat on May 6 last year after enduring taunts and mistreatment linked to her dark complexion and dowry demands. Unable to bear the torture, she jumped into the Tapi River along with her infant daughter. Dipali’s husband Sagar, father-in-law Vimal, and sister-in-law
Payal were booked for abetment to suicide.

Speaking at the Vishwa Bharati University in August 2021, Union Minister of State for Education Subhas Sarkar made a statement asserting that Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore faced familial neglect because of his dark skin. This comment triggered controversy, with the Trinamool Congress condemning it as racially insensitive and an affront to Bengal’s revered icons.

It is widely recognised that people with darker complexions often face prejudice worldwide. Individuals with darker skin tones often resort to using various creams widely marketed through electronic and print media, promising fairer skin. Consequently, the production and marketing of cosmetic creams is a multibillion-dollar global industry thriving on people’s desire for fairer skin.

Society ingrains the perception that women with lighter skin tones are better accepted in the marriage market compared to those with darker complexions.

In African countries, where the majority of the population has dark skin, the demand for skin-lightening creams, particularly among women, is colossal. In Nigeria, 77% of women reportedly use such products, and in Togo, the number is 59%. Although dark-skinned grooms with stable jobs can find suitable partners, brides with darker skin tones encounter
challenges in finding matches. The bias is too glaring to
be ignored.

In the northern regions of India, where fair skin is often prized, individuals with dusky complexions frequently experience taunts and derogatory comments, especially during their school years. Even the grown-ups do not restrain from taunting others. Cricketer Daren Samy, hailing from the West Indies, discovered belatedly that his teammates referred to him as ‘Kalu,’ which means “Blackie” due to his dark complexion. This derogatory nickname was demeaning, and his fair-skinned teammates appeared to hold an unfair advantage over their darker-skinned counterparts.

Azeem Rafiq, a former cricketer of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, born in Karachi and raised in England, endured severe racial discrimination that at times led to suicidal tendencies. Another former Australian cricketer, Darren Lehmann, faced ICC sanctions for using a derogatory term attached to a Sri Lankan cricketer’s dark skin.

It’s ironic that Hindus revere Lord Krishna, Ram, Goddess Kali, and Draupadi, all of whom are depicted as having dark complexions, sometimes even portrayed with blue, green, or black hues. However, when it concerns individuals with dark skin, derogatory language is often used to describe their complexion.

A study conducted at an Indian university revealed that 77.77% of boys and 63.04% of girls considered fair-skinned individuals to be more attractive. This bias likely stems from early childhood and persists into adulthood. While those “blessed” with fair complexions may enjoy advantages in education and employment, individuals with darker skin often need to exert extra effort to prove their abilities.

A non-government organisation, Women of Worth, founded by Kavitha Emmanuel in 2009, has made significant strides through its “Dark is Beautiful” campaign, fostering awareness that dark skin is just as beautiful as lighter complexions. Even the popular product “The Fair and Lovely” was rebranded as “Glow and Lovely.”

A WHO study found that while whitening creams containing mercury may reduce the production of melanin pigments (which contribute to a dark complexion), the potential side effects are severe, damaging the kidneys
and brain if absorbed through the skin.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, which also includes, inter alia, the right to live with human dignity. When people are taunted or harassed on account of their skin colour, nobody ever drags the culprits to the court or police station. A separate law to punish those who taunt the skin colour of others would serve as a deterrent to others.

(The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police, CRPF)

Published 19 August 2023, 02:07 IST

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