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      Volume 10 |Issue 14 | April 08, 2011 |


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The Brown Burden


Now that India has won the ICC World Cup, it is hard to really focus on any other nation. Of course its cricket players have shown, once again, their prowess, perseverance and pure talent to live up to the expectations of their fans. But the other reason why we will hear or see little else is because of the daily bombardment by the endless number of Indian channels our cable man has hooked us up with, where no doubt, the glory of their victory will be played over and over again.

That may not be the worst thing about these channels. Nor are the Hindi serials so devoid of reality (the women wear jewellery to bed, the entire cast wears lavender lipstick and all these rich people never have any household help to cook their sorso ki saag which is the custom, unless it's a comedy). Even the reality shows devoid of originality (all copies from similarly inane American shows) are not on the black list.

What is really jarring about many Indian channels is the overdose of advertisements for fairness creams. It seems Indian celebrities, whether they are actors, actresses, cricketers or even sports commentators, are all geared to take part in this pathetic white-skin-loving bandwagon that demeans brown skin and makes it out to be some kind of disease. Why on earth for instance, should a dusky, stunning beauty like Deepika Padukone, need to use a cream that will 'bring out the natural fairness' in her? What if she doesn't have natural fairness? What if she has only lovely, smooth, natural brownness? What if there is more sun-protecting melanin than mythical fairness pigments waiting to be liberated?

The constant demand to be light-skinned in a country where ethnically around 95 percent people are brown, is certainly a huge burden for Indian women (and this is the same for all of South Asia) whose beauty is often rated according to the level of fairness she has or can chemically acquire. But now even males have caught this awful fixation. Which is why celebrities like Shahrukh Khan, John Abraham and Shahed Kapoor unashamedly appear in ads that promote the idea that success in career and love-life are highly dependent on how many shades lighter you can be. Think of all those millions of young men and boys who idolise these actors and most of whom who are dark-skinned. No doubt they will be applying these creams day and night trying to take away that 'unattractive layer of dark skin'. Well that's the whole point grins the marketing executive in charge of getting consumers hooked on the product. There is after all, a huge amount of money to be made from the fairness fad.

Truth is while there may be marginal lightening of the skin with these products, there is going to be little change in one's complexion if one's brownness or blackness has been genetically predetermined. Otherwise don't you think the entire Indian, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan cricket teams would be all-white by now?

Most dusky people have been fairly resigned with their skin until the onslaught of these ads which constantly insult their ethnicity and reinforce the notion that light-skinned people are superior beings and so command more respect, admiration and success.

Sadly, celebrity-endorsed fairness creams have reached even Bangladesh, where the same fairness fetish is very much part of the culture. Now that actors and other celebrities appear in these ads, there will be no end to the craze among young women and men to try all sorts of products to become lighter-skinned.

So while we may join India in their well-deserved victory, it is worth wondering why we as nations are so proud of our heritage, traditions, culture and achievements and yet so uncomfortable in what is unquestionably ours, our own skin?


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