A new untouchability
On 15th August we celebrated 63 years of independence. Atten-borough's 'Gandhi' film was duly shown. News anchors wore green, saffron and white sarees. And while cliched noise about India's world status were made, a new class of untouchables was being put down. As it has been for years.
It started 30 years ago with a girl waiting for a prospective NRI groom. Her aunt worried that, "Ladka char hafton me aa raha hai... Ek hii adchan hai... ladke ko gori ladki chahiye" ("the boy is coming in 4 weeks...only, he wants a fair bride") Fair & Lovely turned the dark duckling into a fair bride, and Fair & Lovely found its way on to a million dressing tables. Today, the selling of the cult of fairness has reached ubiquitousness that is deeply troubling, with numerous products selling a fairer skin.
Fair & Lovely has created dozens of TV commercials for variants that flog fairness form every direction. Among them, Fair & Lovely Ayurved that converted a "dehati into a "modern beauty company's face." Fair & Lovely Active Sun Block, which converted a pouty photography into a model. And we watched a fairer Genelia D'Souza turn into cricket commentator. Of course, she has moved up in the life since, and today lounges around pitching Garnier Light moisturiser instead.
Pond's goes further and even calls the brand 'White Beauty' - whose effects confuse a painter enough to have to keep touching up his portrait until in 7 days she loses the spots on her face and acquires a diamond ring.
Let's be fair to men
In a bid for equality for men. Emami launched Fair & Handsome. And if Pond's equated White with beauty, Shah Rukh Khan said, "handsome koi bhi ban sakta hai" equating fair with handsome.
Others followed. Garnier caught hold of John Abrahan and took his measure. And Vaseline persuaded Shahid Kapur to give his face the albino look.
Does anymore care?
Does anyone doubt that the relentless putting down of persons with dark skins will affect minds and create a new 'untouchability'? I have not come across a study of this sort in India, but renowned child psychologist professor Margaret Beale Spencer, designed a pilot study for children from 4 to 10 for CNN. A White child looks at a picture of black child is dumb because she has dark skin... these are American School children in 2010. "All kids are exposed to the stereotypes" she said. "(but)... white youngster are even more stereotypic in their beliefs than the African American children."
Why should kids in India be different?
Three recent TV commercials go even further than previous efforts in pushing a white skin as the solution to all ills.
In one, a Fair & Lovely Multi vitamin commercial, there is a cyclist who succeeds with a fairer skin (her intelligent brother has already told her there's no money in cycling.) Do you think its her cycling that works for her? Naah.... don't be sily; its her fair skin.
In Fair & Lovely Max TVC, a pallid young man gets a job thanks to the confidence his fair skin gave him. You can see the Appointment ads of tomorrow: "Wanted, regional manager for leading FMCG company. Qualifications: Must have fair skin, management degree optional"
And in another TVC, this time for a 30-days tube of Fair & Lovely, the girl says she will never make it on stage because of "this face" i.e dark skin. Enter salvation from the curse of her fate in the form of collapsible tube.
Speaking about the findings of her study, Professor Spencer said the study does lead her to conclude that even in 2010, "we are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued."
30 years of advertising and 63 years of freedom later, here too, there are enough efforts underway on TV screens across India to established that a dark skinned girl is damaged goods. Even today,"gori ladki chahiye." The only difference is that thanks to improved technology, now it only takes 7 days to do it.