Skin colour jibes about actor spark prejudice debate

tannishtha_chatterjeeActor Tannishtha Chatterjee who agreed to attend a comedy roast to promote her latest film, sportingly laughed along with the first jokes, but as the programme went on, the hosts’ jibes seemed to focus on one thing. One host quipped “You must like black plums. How many have you eaten since you were a child?”

Chatterjee later wrote that to her horror she realised that the only quality they found worth roasting about was the colour of her skin.   Half way through the roast she stormed off the stage.

Her Facebook post about her frustration has been shared several times, and reprinted in most of the national newspapers, setting off a debate over one of India’s deeply pervasive, yet rarely, admitted prejudices.  In her post she abhorred the idea of skin colour and that the bias against people with darker tones could be a joking matter.  She wrote ‘In a country where people don’t get jobs because of their complexions, where matrimonial ads demand a fair bride or groom, and where dark skin is marginalised, making fun of it is not a roast.’

The open love of fair complexions in India is striking. In fact one Bollywood popular song was the syrupy Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan sung by lip-syncing Sri Lanka actor Jacqueline Fernandez.  All the rage at Indian weddings, the song said “Please agree to take me shopping, listen, show me a romantic movie. I ask you, white wrists, I have white wrists too.

It is not a surprise that the product Fair & Lovely, a lightening face cream says ‘get the confidence to pursue your dreams and ambitions’.  International companies have caught on and Lancome and L’Oreal have also introduced into market their skin-whitening creams, keen for a slice of a global industry said to be worth some billions of dollars.  Chatterjee in posts and interviews blames India’s tenacious caste system traced back 3 millennia to folklore that forms Hindu orthodoxy.

India now also often confronts issues of colour, caste and gender prejudice and some Bollywood stars are from India’s marginalised minority.

The reaction to Chatterjee’s posts has pleased Agnes Joseph a spokeswoman for the Dark is Beautiful campaign that aims to change Indian mindsets about skin.

Hansal Mehta a director, actor and writer from Mumbai said the deep penetration of social media among India’s middle class means colour and caste prejudice can now be forced into the spotlight. One hopes this will happen and India will abandon its ridiculous penchant for whiteness.

One may have heard or read of the current situation in America where black protesters are touting “Black Lives Matter’ hoping to reduce the colour prejudice that exists sadly.