The Colour That Shall Not Be Named

01 July, 2012
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The Colour That Shall Not Be Named

01 July, 2012

White Is Right

  • When an Indian looks at a baby and says, “She’s got colour.”, which colour is he talking about?
  • In any Indian school play, what is likely to be the skin colour of the girl who is the beautiful princess?
  • What is likely to be the skin colour of a beauty contestant winner in India?

As every Indian knows, the answer to all the above questions is “WHITE”. But of course.

It is the colour that has the most exalted position in the colour hierarchy in India. So exalted that its name is often not uttered, merely alluded to in awed tones (refer back to –“she’s got colour”). It’s “the- colour-that-shall-not-be-named”. Rather like Voldemort, “he-who-must-not-be-named” in the Harry Potter series.

Maligning Melanin

Think of those long-suffering, misunderstood bahus (Daughters-in-law) of daily soaps. The ones who slave away and sacrifice all for the family, only to be constantly harangued and slandered.

Similar is the story of poor melanin. It is the pigment which darkens the skin and provides a natural protection against the harmful effects of UV rays. Thanks to Melanin Africans and Asians (people with darker skin tones) have some of the lowest rates of skin cancer in the world.

In return, we slander and abuse the poor thing. And spend about half a billion dollars a year on whitening creams – trying to obliterate its very existence.

Favourite National Past time

In fact, the amount of money and energy that Indians spend on bleaching, scrubbing, camouflaging and cutting away melanin should qualify ‘zap-that-melanin’ as No. 1. National time-killer.  Not movies or cricket.

Ask Shah Rukh Khan, the face of ‘fair and handsome’ – who assures us that road to stardom, is paved with fairness cream. Or Virat Kohli, the future of Indian cricket. According to him, ascending the winner’s podium without a chalky complexion is just not cricket.

The fairness fetish is so pervasive, that even little children (especially little girls) have an awareness of skin colour that is frightening in its intensity. A dark-skinned child at 6 years already feels less of a person and we can only guess at the impact this has on the course of her life.

Loathing The Brown Skin

Winston Churchill’s contempt for Indians was well-known. “I hate Indians.” He said.” They are a beastly people.” He vehemently opposed the idea of Indian Independence, convinced that non-whites were an inferior race, incapable of governing themselves.

He would have been pleased to know that instead of keeping our ‘tryst with destiny’, as our first Prime Minister had wanted, we spend our time loathing our brown lives within our brown skins. Colonialism is alive and kicking!! And what a way to lose the fight – with a lame self-goal.

Archana Rao-D'Cruz