Student sues company over ‘racist’ crayon

The product, ‘skin,’ is a shade of pink, distinctly representative of white skin

June 08, 2013 01:13 am | Updated 01:13 am IST - BANGALORE:

COLOUR AND ‘RACISM’: A law student from Bangalore has filed a complaintagainst Hindustan Pencils at a consumer court accusing the company ofracism for producing a skin tone crayon.  Photo: K. Murali Kumar.

COLOUR AND ‘RACISM’: A law student from Bangalore has filed a complaintagainst Hindustan Pencils at a consumer court accusing the company ofracism for producing a skin tone crayon. Photo: K. Murali Kumar.

A 19-year-old law student has filed a complaint in the consumer court against one of the country’s largest stationery manufacturers over a stick of wax crayon that he found racially offensive. The crayon, which is labelled ‘skin’ by the manufacturer, is a shade of pink or peach and distinctly representative of white skin.

A freshman at the National Law School of India University, Chirayu Jain, has demanded compensation of Rs.1 lakh from the manufacturer for hurting his sentiments. He also sought a payment of Rs.9 lakh to the Consumer Welfare Fund, while demanding that the company “refrain from projecting such racist ideas” through its products.

The crayon that offended Mr. Jain is manufactured by Hindustan Pencils Ltd. under the brand name ‘Colorama.’ The company, established in 1958, also manufactures such iconic brands as Nataraj and Apsara pencils.

In his complaint to the (Bangalore Urban) Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum on Tuesday, Mr. Jain said, “On opening the box, I discovered that the ‘special skin crayon’ was of a shade that did not match my own skin colour. This can only be explained by the fact that the ‘special skin crayon’ which is part of the product is either defective or labelled misleadingly or both.”

He terms as “extremely insensitive and inconsiderate,” the act of the company to label one particular shade as ‘skin colour’ in a market, where a majority of the consumers have skin tones that are either dark or at least different from the shade described as ‘skin’ by the company.

‘Substandard response’

The complaint claims that Mr. Jain tried to seek an explanation from the manufacturer for labelling the peach/pink crayon as ‘skin colour.’ Quoting from a response he received from the company, he says that he received a “substandard” response where a company executive told him that “the label, skin, has been used for a long time [and] cannot be changed now.”

Efforts by this newspaper since June 5 to get a response from the company’s corporate office in Mumbai bore no result.

In his complaint, Mr. Jain also expressed concern over the impressions such a crayon will create in the minds of the young about skin colour, ethnicity and issues of race.

He argues that such a crayon will reinforce stereotypes about racial supremacy. It is written on the box of crayons that they are meant for four-year-old children. “What impact will it have on these young minds when they realise that their skin colour is not recognised? Won’t it reinforce the notions of beauty that fairness products or films seek to impose?” he asks.

Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Jain said that he was not a “trophy hunter” and felt passionately about “colourism” and prejudice in India. “I have been researching the issue of skin colour and the resultant differentiation for over a year now. It is in the course of my study that I stumbled upon this extremely offensive product,” he said.

‘Outdated ideas’

But what if a company were to market brown crayons as ‘skin’? “The issue is about a company’s tendency to promote outdated ideas of racial supremacy. My fight is for a society and a marketplace that is more inclusive and sensitive to the question of diversity,” Mr. Jain says.

How about suing companies that promote skin lightening products through offensive advertisements? “It’s my dream to see these companies run out of business. But that cannot happen without a change in our society; without a change in our perceptions of beauty,” he says.

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