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The fallacy of the fairness concept

Minister Giriraj Singh’s recent racist statement about Sonia Gandhi has been widely condemned, but unfortunately the general view on the question of the colour of the skin in India is more or less similar to his. Mr. Singh’s comments came shortly after Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar told agitating nurses in Goa not to hold their protest demonstrations in the hot sun as it would make them ‘dark’ and ‘ruin their marital prospects’.

A certain morbid colour-consciousness is embedded in the collective Indian psyche that makes us believe that ‘dark doesn’t delight’.

We’ve a psychological, nay pathological, craving for fairness. So black is forever looked down upon. This is nothing short of a kind of mental and social enslavement that has become integral to our consciousness and collective thinking. Matrimonial advertisements still shamelessly underline the colour of a bride’s complexion, and dark is frowned upon. Nowhere in India can you come across, even accidentally, a matrimonial advertisement that states that a ‘girl has a dark complexion’. It’ll be a sure enough recipe for outright rejection!

Many young women who are dark, feel marginalised in every sphere of life.

But have we always been obsessed with fairness?

Ancient Indian literature, mostly in Sanskrit, teems with references to dark complexion as the ‘epitome of beauty’. Shyam varna (dark complexion) of beautiful women egged poets on to write poetry in praise of the ‘twilight beauty’. Jayadev’s Gita Govinda has a dark complexioned Radha who is a perfect foil to the darkish Krishna.

Almost all the female characters in Kalidasa’s masterpieces were dark complexioned. Draupadi was far from being fair. Bhavabhuti’s Uttara Rama Charita does not show Sita with a peach-and-cream complexion. The Kamba Ramayana does not present Sita as someone with rose-and-tulip cheeks. Courtesans of Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra were dark. There is a complete chapter in the book dwelling on black beauties. Vatsyayana wrote: Shyam varnam saundrya bhutim pratimanah asti (beauty resides in dark colour and texture).

The most interesting thing is that in Bhanubhatt’s Nepali Ramayan, Shoorpanakha (Ravana’s sister, whose nose was cut by Lakshman) is depicted as fair-complexioned, and Sita has dark complexion. This indicates that poets of that time associated dark complexion with goodness and nobility, and thought of fairness as something full of guile. Ancient India considered dark complexion as something vibrant and throbbing with life and exuberance. Shyam chaapalya priyadhaam (black is always agile and sprightly), stated the ancient Sanskrit poet Amrook in one of his 100 poems, in a tribute to feminine beauty. Out of Amrook’s 100 verses on female beauty, 76 praise black beauties. His coeval Brahthari wrote only about dark complexioned beauties; never did he write anything in praise of fairness. Before becoming a saint, Brahthari lived a bohemian life but he always liked it more when he was with a dark complexioned woman.

Fairness became a barometer of beauty when Central Asian invaders began to come to the sub-continent. They were very fair, coming as they did from Mongoloid stock. The word Hindu connotes black in Persian, and Babar used the word to define the complexion of people of the sub-continent. Hafiz Shirazi wrote: Agar aan Turk-e-Shirazi badstayad dile-maara/ Bakhaale-hinduash bakhsham Samarkand-o-ukhara (I can give away cities like Samarkand and Bukhara in preference to the black mole — Bakhaal-e-hinduash in Persian — on his face). The Mughals used the word Hindu in a rather condescending manner, as a metaphor for the lowly and the sinister. With the passage of time, the enslaved people of the sub-continent also began to feel that black was inferior. By the time the Mughals lost their hegemony, the Brits were upon us.

The ‘fallacy of fairness’, as coined by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, got a fillip and this myth of colour got entrenched in our collective psyche. So much so that today we just cannot admire a black beauty. There is only a grudging admiration for dark complexion because we have been indoctrinated by the Mughals and English to believe that the dark is dirt. Had we not been ruled by fair-skinned people, we’d never have been conscious about our complexion — which is predominantly dark or wheatish.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 8:12:41 PM |

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