The Unfairness of Wanting to be Fair

Submitted for Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about change.... view prompt


 

Growing up in a middle-class Indian family as a dark-skinned woman, my story wasn’t much different from that of other women, especially those who were brought up in rural areas. We were made to believe that the amount of melanin in our skin determines our worth. People would ask, “Are you drinking too much black coffee?” or “Are you spending a lot of time in the sun?” The answers wouldn’t have mattered anyway. They were just rhetorical questions to re-emphasize the idea that our complexion was the result of our actions. The deep-rooted prejudice about skin colour is ingrained from a younger age — in fact, it begins when the girl is in the mother’s womb itself. The elders in the family would make the expectant moms drink saffron-laced milk hoping it would change the destiny of the offspring. 

 

When I was born, my paternal grandmother refused to hold me because I looked as black as a crow according to her. It hurt my mom a lot and she didn’t speak to my grandmother for so many years. My mom was always so quick to defend me when anyone commented about my colour, “ Misha is not dark, she is just wheatish.” What the hell does ‘wheatish’ mean anyway? Even though she always defended me publicly, secretly she was worried about how I would be accepted in a society where the women are judged by how they look. I would hear her telling my dad, “It won’t be easy for Misha to get a husband. Let’s at least give her a good education.” She had me follow a beauty regime for years, with long turmeric baths, Multani mitti (fullers earth clay) face packs and skin lightening creams. Every now and then, someone would tell my mom, “Seema, why don’t you try giving this to Misha?” and she would run to the store. 

 

I wasn’t allowed to go out in the sun without an umbrella because my mom didn’t want my complexion turning darker than how it was (as if it was even possible). My favourite colour was dark blue, but my mom insisted I only wear white or other lighter colours all the time. By the time I turned 12, I had reached the conclusion that I was born with something demeaning that ran deeper than superficial appearances. I had a curse and I would be scrutinized forever for that. The school I went to didn’t help much with my self-esteem either. How was it possible when we had an English textbook with pictures of two women where the fair-skinned happy looking woman was termed beautiful and the dark-skinned one who looked dull was termed ugly! For something as simple as teaching the kids antonyms with pictorial representation, they obviously chose a negative stereotype. When any of the teachers didn’t remember my name, they would simply refer to me as ‘the black girl with long hair’. It didn’t matter that I was smart, hard-working and well behaved. I still got bullied for how I looked. Bullying isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the schools, but in my case, it was as if I just gave them the perfect excuse. I felt hopeless and stuck. I felt it was my fault. If I think back, I am not sure how I survived. Somehow, I did.

 

The college I went to was comparatively better because it was in the city and I was fortunate to be around positive and forward-minded people. Still, I faced some thinly-veiled insults that my friends would easily pass as jokes like, “Hey Misha, don’t go and stand in the dark corner. You will be invisible.”

 

“Misha, your parents might need to make a trip all the way to Africa to find someone as black as you.”

 

I would laugh along with them, not wanting to show that their words have affected me. 

 

After I finished my degree, I started working in a bank and I made clear to my parents that my decision to work didn’t have anything to do with making up for what they think I may lack in terms of beauty. It was solely out of necessity — to stand on my own feet, to build an identity for myself. Being an unmarried woman, my parents weren’t happy about me living alone in the city. Soon enough they found a solution for that also. One day, I got a call from my mom asking me to come home soon. I was worried if something happened to her or my dad. But it turned out she just asked me to come home to let me know that they fixed my marriage with a distant relative of one of my aunties. He saw my photo and he liked me it seems. As far as arranged marriages are concerned, he seemed like someone I could see spending my life with — educated, employed and mild-mannered. Sad, but true. Everyone in the family thought I was lucky to get a good man despite my colour (the guy’s colour was insignificant by the way).

 

Then came the twist, in the form of his mom, my future mother-in-law. She demanded that my parents pay more dowry because her son should be ‘compensated’ for marrying an ugly girl when he could have a fair bride instead. What shocked me the most was the silence of the man whom I was going to marry in less than a month. After telling him on the face that I deserved someone with a backbone, not him, I broke off the engagement. Everyone expected me to be devastated about my broken engagement and to some extent, I thought the same too. But surprisingly, all I felt was a relief— that I just saved myself from not having to go through years and years of misery and disappointment. It was as if the events transpired on that day opened the inner eye in me which had been shut for so long. It urged me to see things from a different perspective. I was no longer the girl who lived a life full of doubts and insecurities. I was no longer the girl who tried hard to get accepted by the society and its false ideals. I was a successful, independent woman, as equal as everyone else, irrespective of my caste, religion and colour. 

 

***

 

Today, I am married to a wonderful man who adores me for what I am— not because I am dark, yet pretty.

Today, I am the mother of two little children whom I will never deny sunshine and rainbows. 

 

Today, I refuse to speak to a salesgirl when she tries to sell a cream to remove tan lines.

Today, I laugh at the hypocrisy of the men and women around me when they express their concerns over the racial attacks.

I believe they are a part of the problem —because they advise a dark-skinned woman to use fairness creams. Because their matrimonial advertisements start with the line ‘looking for a fair boy/girl’.

 

Today, I refuse to retweet the hashtag posts of my favourite celebs about racist attacks across the globe. I believe that they are a part of the problem — because they were brand ambassadors of fairness creams. Because they kept quiet when the minorities in their own country were killed in the name of caste and religion. 




In February 2020, the Government of India decided to make massive changes to the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954 that will now include fairness cream advertisements as well. According to the new proposals, any party found promoting or advertising fairness creams will be faced with penalty and jail term.


Introducing a legal punishment is definitely a step in the right direction. But is that enough to cure the well-known ‘social disease’ in India i.e. Obsession with fair skin? The real cure lies in changing the prevailing mindset about millennia-old preferences. To reach there, we have a long journey ahead, on a road with way too many bumps. 

 

The revolution we all have been waiting for — let it begin at our doorsteps.

The fire that will lighten the darkness of hatred and cruelty — let the spark come from within us.

 

 





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101 comments

Mira Caplan
00:39 Jun 13, 2020

I'm not going to try and top any of the comments below... All I really want to say is thank you- I'm glad that people in this world understand what others, especially colored, go through. Thank you for sharing this with us!

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Roshna Rusiniya
11:18 Jun 13, 2020

Thank you for reading Mira. Really appreciated. Racism should be tackled in the same way as we do with hunger and pandemics. Unfortunately handling racism means changing the mindsets of people which is harder than the other two issues!

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Mira Caplan
15:49 Jun 14, 2020

That is a fair point - hopefully, over these years and with a new generation of people, the prejudice and unfairness of racism will cease to exist.

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Ray Van horn
20:03 Jun 12, 2020

If this is fiction, WOW! If it's autobiographical, double wow! I was about to say that if I was in India, I'd come right up and give you a hug, screw the social distancing. Brutally honest, painful, just so very affecting in narration. I'm in the U.S., of course, and I had a hard time in 6th and 7th grade to the point one of the few people who befriended me happened to be recently relocated from India. I still remember her name, Sarita Tohan, and she was so nice to me when I needed a friend after having to fight much of the time. She s...

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Roshna Rusiniya
20:09 Jun 12, 2020

Thanks for reading Ray! Misha is a fictional character, but her struggles are real. I combined the experiences of many women I know and put it there. I know women who are still unmarried because of their complexion. I am not ‘dark’ according to the Indian standards. So I never faced any bitterness. Yes, I could still relate to the umbrella part and skin lightening creams. The English text book I mentioned— it’s real too! Misha got a happy ending. But in reality not every woman is that lucky!

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Arman Javed
11:06 Jun 19, 2020

True indeed! I appreciate your insight! It all revolves around the judgemental society we are part of

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Rachel Harris
09:32 Jun 12, 2020

We are such confused animals. Berating people for traits we, ourselves desire. I can't imagine Misha's experience but, it needs to be shared. Thank you.

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Roshna Rusiniya
09:46 Jun 12, 2020

Thank you for reading and commenting Rachel. Misha is fictional, but her experiences and struggles are real. Misha got a happy ending in the story. Unfortunately many women don’t.

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Praveen Jagwani
08:48 Jun 12, 2020

Great imagery Roshna. Having grown up in India, I could identify with the discriminatory nuances of society. Wheatish and Multani Mitti had me chuckling. The title though clever, is a mouthful. Perhaps 'Fairly Unfair' might do the job. Did you mean to write 'indirectly' in this sentence > But it turned out she just called me to let me know in direct that they fixed my marriage with... Overall despite the absence of dialogue you fleshed out the character really well. I will look forward to your stories.

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:57 Jun 12, 2020

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Praveen. I really appreciate it! Even though I didn’t have to face any of those experiences, I know a lot of girls who went through hell. Thank you for pointing out the error about ‘ in direct’. Now when I read it, something doesn’t sound right. I will fix it. Thank you Praveen. And thank you for the comment about the title. It does sound mouthful! I have a flair for dramatic titles if you look at the titles of my previous stories too. Ha ha!

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Lori Colt
22:04 Jun 09, 2020

I absolutely LOVE your story. I am aware of the caste system in India but had no idea how coveted color is. Misha sounds absolutely gorgeous and I adore how you portrayed her. What a strong, beautiful woman. BTW-I did notice this sentence is missing a "no" in front of the "longer", "She was longer the girl who tried hard to get accepted by the society and its false ideals." Keep on writing, you are a terrific writer!

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:17 Jun 10, 2020

Thank you Lori for reading and commenting. And thank you for pointing out the error. I posted the story in a hurry yesterday. I corrected the mistake and also changed the story from third-person point of view to first-person point of view. I thought it would make Misha's struggles look more impactful. You are a very good writer too Lori. I make it a point to read your stories whenever I see them. I might have missed giving a feedback all the time. I do click 'like' so you know I read them. Ha ha. Take care!

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21:34 Jun 09, 2020

I liked the title for this one! The story was thought-provoking as well

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:19 Jun 10, 2020

Thank you Emilie for reading and commenting. The title gave me a headache, to be honest. I wanted something that would look fitting but not in the 'on the face' way. I am glad I chose this. I also changed the story from the third-person point of view to the first-person point of view.

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11:47 Jun 10, 2020

You're welcome--I think it's even better in first person! Good choice to change that

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Rose Bingely
19:38 Jun 09, 2020

Wow, this was really good. It made me want to know more about Indian society, and I hate to say I don't know much about it now. It pointed out a lot and really hit home. Thanks Roshna!

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:45 Jun 09, 2020

Thanks Rose. Misha is a fictional character but her experiences are real. A combination of what I saw and what I heard.

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Rose Bingely
19:49 Jun 09, 2020

Yes, I suspected that. It is so interesting how different societies are, but how they all sport the same types of evil.

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:13 Jun 10, 2020

Indian society is very complicated Rose. It has a lot of positive aspects about it- the culture, traditions, diversity, the importance we give to relationships, But it has its own share of negative aspects as well- patriarchy, caste system, judgmental attitude etc.

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Rose Bingely
14:31 Jun 10, 2020

Good to know, Roshna. Like I said, I haven’t been educated like this before, and I definitely need to be. So forgive me if I ever say anything wrong or accidentally give the wrong impression. America has many great aspects as well as horrible ones. I guess we can conclude that is so with every country! 🤪❤️

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Roshna Rusiniya
14:51 Jun 10, 2020

Don’t worry Rose. You didn’t offend me at all. You were just curious. Yes, no country is perfect. But when our heart belongs somewhere, we will learn to love it despite all the flaws.

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Rose Bingely
15:30 Jun 10, 2020

Ok, good! And yes, no matter the flaws, its home!

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Laura Clark
19:36 Jun 09, 2020

I learned so much that I had no idea about from reading this. What awful experiences people have had. This didn’t read as a story to me - I would’ve loved to hear some experiences from Misha’s perspective, some more of her thoughts and feelings. Giving an overview of her life like this was great for a factual overview of the situation though. Thanks for sharing this info!

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:43 Jun 09, 2020

Thank you for reading Laura. Well this is the first time I am writing in the third person point of view. I guess I am not good at that. Ha ha

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Laura Clark
19:47 Jun 09, 2020

Also I frigging love the title. It’s perfect for this concept

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Laura Clark
19:46 Jun 09, 2020

Don’t be so hard on yourself! It was a really interesting read 🙂

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:51 Jun 09, 2020

I decided to edit it and change the point of view from third-person to first-person

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Laura Clark
07:39 Jun 14, 2020

Oh wow, I’ve just reread it and that change makes it brilliant! Excellent editing choices - this is a great read.

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Roshna Rusiniya
07:44 Jun 14, 2020

Thank you Laura. I guess I posted the first version in a hurry. I went through it again and I knew I had to change it.

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India Moon
19:29 Aug 04, 2020

ABSOLUTELY TOTALLY FUCKING RELATE TO THIS. The beauty of this piece is (looking at comments below and my own experience of reading it) that it comes off as a genuine autobiographical piece. And all our responses are to the content of the story, not the way it's told. I think that's a huge success. Straightforward, disarming, strong narrative voice. Very well done.

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:38 Aug 04, 2020

Thank you! That’s one curse India needs to get rid of. My story wasn’t autobiographical, but inspired by the real experiences of people whom I knew personally.

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India Moon
19:41 Aug 04, 2020

Yes, I can personally relate to only few things since I've benefited from fair-skin privilege in south india, but my sister faced quite a bit more of all that nonsense. I agree, and I think the whole world needs to get rid of the fairness obsession!

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Annora Chen
04:21 Jul 30, 2020

Omg, im sry for any of u that faced this challenge before, and i rlly wish i could just slap the whole world across its face and shout at it "U want fairness but the more u fight, protest saying the world is still unfair with racism, sexism, and etc. U r the reason why its so unfair!" This is ofc my own opinion, so i might not be necessarily correct, so pls dont be offended by my words. Anyway, have a good day!! 💗

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Roshna Rusiniya
04:33 Jul 30, 2020

Hi Annora! Thanks for reading this! No, I am not offended. I also talked about double standards in the story where people express anger towards racism happening everywhere around them when they themselves are responsible for some of it.

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Annora Chen
07:06 Jul 30, 2020

yeahh, i just hope some ppl gets it, lmao, how do I send it to them without making it obv

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Anna Chidiac
03:15 Jul 04, 2020

Great story. :) That's all I can really think to say. ^_^

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Roshna Rusiniya
04:30 Jul 04, 2020

Thank you Anna! That’s so sweet of you!

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17:34 Jun 24, 2020

I can totally relate. Coming from the same country and dusky, the colour of the skin still remains a contentious issue.

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Roshna Rusiniya
17:37 Jun 24, 2020

Thanks for reading Parvathy. It’s quite unfortunate that we are still dealing with backward issues.

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Veena Parmar
19:36 Jun 19, 2020

Hi Roshna! I really enjoyed your story and found it really interesting and moving. Through fiction you have highlighted a real issue that affects real people, often with devastating results. I can relate with Misha, not because I am dark-skinned but because I am disabled and use a wheelchair. You have really brought to life the social prejudices that she has had to endured due to narrow-minded community. I will look out for more of your stories!

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:50 Jun 19, 2020

Thank you Veena for reading and commenting. Greatly appreciated! Misha is a combination of many women I know. I gave her a happy ending in the story. But in reality, not every woman is that fortunate. I checked out your profile and saw that you haven’t written anything yet. Will keep an eye on them. All the very best to you with your writing. Btw I just posted a new story. Please have a look if you have time. Thank you!

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Scott Smock
14:00 Jun 19, 2020

That story is very well-written. Being white I've never really understood the struggles of people of color. But being a man I have been attracted to all colors of the female of the species. So let me just say, to every race who reads this, you are all beautiful, strong and special.

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Roshna Rusiniya
14:08 Jun 19, 2020

Thank you reading Scott! Appreciate it. A beautiful message at the end too. Everyone is special, irrespective of their colour and race.

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Nandan Prasad
09:23 Jun 18, 2020

This is a really nice story! I am an Indian myself and most of my former slightly-fair classmates used to really insult the darker ones. So though I have never been teased myself, I can truthfully say I empathize with Misha. Such a beautifully developed character. Also, I have a small request. Could you please try and review my story as well? I'm new here, you see. Thanks, and I hope to see more of your amazing stories. Good luck!

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Roshna Rusiniya
09:34 Jun 18, 2020

Thank you Nandan for reading and commenting. Really appreciated. Misha is a combination of many women I know. Of course I will read your story as well. Welcome to Reedsy!

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Nandan Prasad
10:17 Jun 18, 2020

Thank you!

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Yves. ♙
00:37 Jun 18, 2020

This is fantastic. I was waiting to find a story by a person of color this week; this stands out among other narratives.

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Roshna Rusiniya
02:56 Jun 18, 2020

Thank you! I really appreciate you reading and commenting. ❤️

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Rhondalise Mitza
22:46 Jun 16, 2020

💕💕💕💕💕💕💕💕love your stories so much!!!

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Roshna Rusiniya
07:27 Jun 17, 2020

Ah that so sweet of you ❤️ You are a very good writer too! I try to read and acknowledge your stories with a ‘like’ whenever I come across them. Keep writing!

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Corey Melin
04:59 Jun 16, 2020

Very good read of the numerous examples of divisiveness that takes place around the world. Will we ever unite? Only when ignorance is stamped out.

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Roshna Rusiniya
05:07 Jun 16, 2020

Thank you for reading Corey. I agree with what you said. Every culture has its own share of issues. It’s not easy to change until and unless everyone gets rid of the prejudices.

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Sarah Greenwood
02:15 Jun 16, 2020

Great piece. Eye opening. Thank you.

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Suzana Mahabub
23:56 Jun 15, 2020

I'm not Indian but I AM brown (Bengali) and when I was young I was a little darker than the rest of my family (which was solely because I was out in the sun for long periods of time). but that never stopped my relatives insulting me nicely about my complexion. my mom was also quick to defend me like Misha's mom, so I relate to this story on a very different level. I love this story. amazing work!!

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Roshna Rusiniya
04:39 Jun 16, 2020

Thank you Susana for reading and commenting. I am sorry to hear that you had to go through it. It’s one of the biggest curses in the whole of Indian sub continent.

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