Colorism in India is something that every person experiences at least once in their day-to-day life. Discrimination based solely on someone’s skin color is quite prevalent in India. It also involves a gendered phenomenon that affects Indian women more than men. Indians have a tendency to praise someone based on their complexion and judge their “beauty” depending on their fair skin. Although such comments are not specifically made to abuse or target dark-skinned people, it is a common practice and a collective social mindset that we as a society prefer people with fair complexions than any other skin tone, even when most of us naturally have brown skin.
We talked with two women who bravely faced ridicule, disrespect, trauma and stressful situations due to their darker skin tone. While sharing her story, Nikita Basu, a 21-year-old financial analyst, said, “I was born and brought up in a small town, named Berhampur, situated in Orissa. Since my childhood, I have observed people’s obsession with the controversial, yet highly popular, ‘Fair & Lovely’ products. Earlier, it used to be one of the most widely sold products in the market. My classmates used to tease me by calling me ‘Kaali’. Even my grandmother was very much concerned about my skin color. I used to hear such comments like ‘no one is going to marry me’.”
Sharing her experiences, Nikita further added “I don’t know why people still consider marriage the ultimate destination of a girl. My aunts used to prepare ‘ubtan’ and forcefully apply it on my face. I used to feel annoyed and discriminated against, but I never felt conscious about my skin color. I was quite indifferent to the whole situation simply because I knew that it didn’t matter. And, I know for a fact that I would feel the same way even if I had a lighter skin tone.”
Apeksha Mishra, a 34-year-old fashion designer, shared her story of being a brown girl born to a fair-skinned mother. “Yes, it was quite traumatic. I will not lie. I have spent my childhood in Goa and used to live with my joint family. My mother is really pretty and has milk-white skin. When I was a child, I experienced extreme mocking by my family, friends, neighbors, and relatives. Being a dark-skinned girl, I used to consider my mother the most beautiful woman in the world. I used to copy and imitate her, dress up like her, wrap sarees, wear lipstick, and repeat everything she used to do,” shared Apeksha. However, she eventually started to detest her natural complexion as she was being taunted and teased by her neighbor who constantly compared Apeksha to her mother. “I was extremely hurt and pissed off. Even one of my cousins used to tease me, ‘You are not a rasgulla, you’re are a brown gulab jamun!’ I remember that I vigorously cried that night thinking I was not good enough. Later my mother consoled me by saying, ‘What tastes better to you- rasgulla or gulab jamun?’ Well, fortunately, gulab jamun has been my favorite since childhood,” added Apeksha.
She further said “I asked my mother if I was beautiful or not, and my mother answered, ‘Of course, you’re beautiful.’ My mother’s confirmation was enough for me to feel satisfied with my own appearance. Thankfully, my mother’s confidence in me always helps me to ignore what society has to say.”
“Discrimination based on someone’s skin color can negatively affect a person’s mental health, leading to self-hatred, negative self-talk and depression. It leads to low self-esteem in women,” psychologist Reema Nayak said in an interview. Report says that women are the worst victims of colorism in India. Most Indian women are forced to meet unrealistic societal standards of beauty in order to deem suitable for the matrimonial market.
*(Name and place changed due to privacy concerns)