I know a lot has already been said and written about it, but the recent step of Unilever regarding renaming fairness cream motivated me to write this.

Television and newspaper’s advertisement sections are overwhelmed with several fairness cream advertisements. In matrimonial advertisements also people clearly mention “want a fair, tall and slim girl”. Several such kinds of obsessions are prevalent in India for years. Those girls who don’t have fair skin color face several discrimination staring from home to schools, colleges and workplace too. But when did this start? Was it always? No. So, it is important to know when and how skin color became an important attribute of beauty in Indian society.

1. Present-day Indians are a conglomeration of different races and distinct cultures with many similarities. We Indians have different skin colors and different facial features as per the geographical area we belong to.

2. India is the oldest civilization in the world. In ancient India, there is no history of discrimination on the basis of skin color.  Though, in ancient times also region, religion, Varna, caste, sub-caste, Gotra, Kula, etc. existed. Lord Ram and Lord Krishna have dark skin, but they were appreciated as an epitome of beauty. The meaning of ‘Krishna’ a Sanskrit word is black. Goddess Kali was dark-skinned but considered a paradigm of strength and power and still being worshiped. Another Goddess, Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva was described to have wheatish complexion but extremely beautiful.   Draupadi, the strongest female protagonist of Mahabharata – The Hindu epic was dark-skinned but considered extremely beautiful women. Lord Krishna also used to call Krushna to Draupadi. One female poet around 8th -9th century wrote I am dark as Neelkamal, “NeelotpaldalshubhramVijjakaMaamjaanata.” Ancient texts stated acceptance of beauty, valor, and status was not associated with skin color.  So there was no discrimination in ancient India over skin color.

3. Mughals, Portuguese, and British were the major invaders in India. Apart from these several other Muslims, and French invaders came to India.

4. Muslims came first as a businessman in 712 A.D.  Majority of Muslim invaders came from Arabic and Persian areas.  They had fairer skin than most of the Indians.  As they started ruling India, they settled here. They got married to Indians and the offspring of those couples had lighter-skin color than Indians. They considered dark-skinned Indians as slaves and discrimination started.

5. Then Indian became a colony of British in 1757. British people had fair skin and different facial features than Indians. Because of this, the British considered themselves as ‘superior’ and ‘intelligent’ race.  Consequently, it’s their right to rule ‘inferior’ and ‘dark-colored’ Indians. During British era, dark-skinned Indians were prohibited from entering into restaurants and educational institutions. So British people occupied higher position and they hired Indians in lower positions. At the juncture, light-skinned Indians were again given preference over dark-skinned ones. Fair-skinned Indians used to get extra advantages from British people. Discrimination over skin color was evident in British era. With this, skin color based discrimination was deeply embedded in a nation where most people have dark skin.

6. When British left India in 1947 this discrimination should have been stopped. Right? But didn’t. Market politics took place of British rulers. Different media platforms started governing the beauty ideals, and they start glorifying lighter-skin. Models, both male and female with lighter-skin chosen to advertise fairness products.  Television and movie stars also advertise fairness products. In 2015, the market size for fairness cream was estimated to be approximately 450 million USD. Initially, most of the fairness products making companies were from the Western world. Now several Indian companies also started production of fairness cream.

 To summarize, discrimination over skin color is not an indigenous perception to India. Instead, it is brought by invaders and later by multimillionaire businessmen.

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