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    Volume 8 Issue 74 | June 19, 2009 |

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Just Say the Magic Words

Aasha Mehreen Amin

What's all this obsession with whitening everything? I thought the age of apartheid was over, more or less at least. Not quite, it seems as we witness the aggressive advertising of whitening creams and lotions, not just for women but men too (perhaps household pets will follow), because you see, unless you have light skin you just can't get anywhere in life whether it is a job as an anchor or to become a television diva or to get a promotion from obscure stuntman to adored hero. Which pretty much leaves most of us - say 99.9 percent of Bangladeshis, completely in the darkness of joblessness and hopeless invisibility in our classist system.

But we have far greater worries to plague our heads with than the whitening of our Dravidian complexions. We are stressing over the fact that now it is not just the epidermis that can be whitened to Arian levels but even banknotes as long as they are illegally procured. It goes something like this: rich people who have fattened their bank accounts with ill-gotten dough (through evading taxes for instance, or smuggling or illegal voice over internet business) can now 'whiten' their 'black money' by paying 10 percent tax on the amount that they declare as black as long as they invest in the industrial sector or capital market or even if they buy a few dozen flats. Presumably, this does not include the money 'invested' in villas in Marbella or some other exotic spot in Europe or the swelling accounts in the Land of Lindt.

This currency-colour-changing activity, our cheery finance minister says is not morally quite acceptable but is ultimately for our own good. It will boost industry, employment and generally lead our nation into the world of rapid economic growth and prosperity. It will even curb corruption even though the whole idea is flawlessly immoral. It's a bit like a quick whitewash on the cracked, pock-marked, graffiti-ridden walls just before a SAARC event that fools nobody but adds to the state's self-delusion.

Meanwhile, the little people, the citizens who have diligently paid their taxes, reducing their honestly-earned, take-home incomes to a joke, these people will just have to sit and watch the show, feel supremely ditched by their government but remain placid and silent. It's kind of a reverse Robin Hood syndrome: tax the honest and poor consistently and indulge the dishonestly rich. Funnily enough, the same people who now advocate this process of whitening, when they were on the other side of the fence, screamed foul everytime their opponents declared this magical whitening scheme. So it's a 'sarkari' idiosyncrasy - this whitening of black money. After all, what else can one do when most of your friends and family have been practicing this art of deception and greed generation after generation? You can't just turn your back on your kith and kin.

Personally, I think it's those ads that are the culprits. They insist it is possible to become whiter no matter how much your DNA and family album suggests otherwise - in a matter of three weeks! This is what has brainwashed our consecutive governments to think that black money can become white - as long as one keeps saying it over and over again like a magic mantra. Abracadabra.

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