The Unfairness of Wanting to be Fair

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

101 comments

General


 

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.

 

 





June 09, 2020 16:14

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101 comments

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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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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05:42 Jun 15, 2020

GREAT story Roshna! This story really describe one of the current issue happening in India! Loved it!😊😉 Keep writing and have a great day Roshna!❤️️ P.S( Thank you for liking my story! I really appreciate it!)

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Roshna Rusiniya
05:52 Jun 15, 2020

Ah thank you reading Harshini! Appreciate it. ❤️ Yes, every culture has its own share of evils.

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06:01 Jun 15, 2020

Yes, I agree Roshna! Felt really sad when reading your story...Great job in writing it!😁 Your stories are truly inspiring...keep writing :))))

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Roshna Rusiniya
06:09 Jun 15, 2020

That’s so sweet of you to say that. ❤️

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06:12 Jun 15, 2020

I'm glad :)))))

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Kelechi Nwokoma
12:51 Jun 14, 2020

This is a wonderful story! It reminds me of a Bollywood series I watched one time called Krishi. The girl was a dark-skinned Indian, and she was mocked for it. I like that the main character didn't let people's opinions weigh her down. This colour segregation happens all around the world. Even in my country in Africa, where everybody is dark-skinned, we still have segregation of those who are 'fair', those who are 'brown' and those who are 'black' All in all, I'm really glad that you wrote about this. Could you please read my story, B.L.E....

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Batool Hussain
10:32 Jun 13, 2020

Amazing story!! BRAVO Would you mind checking out my recent story , please?

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Roshna Rusiniya
11:09 Jun 13, 2020

Thank you. Sure I will be happy to do that.

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23:28 Jun 12, 2020

Another great write from you Roshna! and thank you for highlighting this issue. This obsession with lighter being viewed as more desirable than a darker skin tone is pervasive the world over. As a woman of color, I can definitely relate to this issue. Even in popular culture, the brown woman's beauty is not celebrated, the way other women are. There is a standard image of what beauty is. I see beauty in all colors.

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Roshna Rusiniya
11:10 Jun 13, 2020

Thank you for reading Elizabeth. Really appreciated! :) Yes, it's a global issue. Like I mentioned in my story, it runs deeper than superficial appearance.

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Emma Lin
21:42 Jun 12, 2020

The tone and flow of the story were fantastic! I know there is a cream in India called "Fair and Lovely" and all of the girls used it to portray an upper-class social status, which I think is ridiculous...why can't we girls be based on personality and education? And your story did a great job in detailing that :)

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Roshna Rusiniya
11:13 Jun 13, 2020

Thank you for reading Emma. Really appreciated. Creams like fair and lovely etc. have been there for so many decades. Fairness products industry is a million-dollar business in India now. There are also girls who go for advanced cosmetic treatments like chemical peeling, skin lightening, glutathione injections etc, nowadays.

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Kathryn El Assal
19:20 Jun 12, 2020

Growing up, I always wished I wasn’t so white and could be in the sun without burning. Ah, the irony of society’s stupid prejudices making us want to change everything from our skin color to our hair type. As usual, I loved your story, Roshna. I thought about entering a Peace Corps Morocco story myself, but decided to pass and cross my fingers that the judges would choose to honor voices of color this round. Unlike some of the people commenting on your story, I feel like I do have some knowledge about India from close friends who have vis...

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:59 Jun 12, 2020

Thank you Kathryn for reading! I wasn’t planning to enter too. But I happened to read the story of an Indian woman who committed suicide because her husband kept insulting her as she was dark-skinned. It prompted me to write about the colour issues and what it does to a woman’s self esteem. I know of girls who kept rejected by guys because of the colour. Throughout their lives, they live with discrimination, insecurities and self- loathing. Fairness cream companies feed on their issues and make millions. It’s interesting to know th...

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Kathryn El Assal
22:56 Jun 12, 2020

Have you seen the Deepa Mehta trilogy: “Fire,” “Earth,” and “Water”? Serious topics. Then there’s “Slumdog Millionaire” with its Bollywood credits at the end...loved that!

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Roshna Rusiniya
11:08 Jun 13, 2020

Deepa Mehta's elements trilogy was brilliant! I saw Slumdog Millionaire and I didn't like it. It was just like another Bollywood movie. If you get time, watch The Lunchbox, Peepli Live, Paan Singh Tomar, Swades, A Wednesday, Stanley ka Dubba

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Kathryn El Assal
19:27 Jun 13, 2020

Thanks for the recommendations!

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Deborah Angevin
08:18 Jun 11, 2020

This is such an eye-opening piece of writing :o

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:22 Jun 11, 2020

Thank you for reading Deborah! Appreciate it.

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Samadhee Ismail
14:53 Jun 10, 2020

I enjoyed reading your story and I can't help notice how Sri Lankan culture (that's where I am from) and Indian culture is much alike. We too have caste problems and I like how you have addressed the issue. Good job!

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Roshna Rusiniya
14:56 Jun 10, 2020

Thank you Samdhee for reading!❤️ Oh you are from Sri Lanka? I can relate to what you are saying. Sri Lanka and India are in the same subcontinent after all.

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Kathleen March
13:56 Jun 10, 2020

This doesn’t read like a fictional piece, because we know people think that way. However, it does sweep the reader along, in horror. I love the rhythm of the narrative and the repetition helps. The story does not lecture or wallow in self-pity. A lovely woman’s voice shines through. Damn the idiots and give them the perfect response - the quote at the end. You nailed it.

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Roshna Rusiniya
14:12 Jun 10, 2020

Thanks for reading Kathleen. I didn’t want to fictionalise the issue, so people won’t have any misunderstandings about the culture. I combined the experiences of many women including me and put it there. Not every woman is lucky to get a happy ending like Misha did though.

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Kathleen March
14:28 Jun 10, 2020

I definitely understand your intention. Saying it didn’t read like fiction means you did a good job with it as a story. I ran into issues of the same sort in Peru. Never expected it to be so strong in such a mixed-race country.

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Roshna Rusiniya
14:44 Jun 10, 2020

Well, it’s a global issue. I also wanted to point out the hypocrisy of people back home talking about racism when it’s so common there and they never said anything about it.

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12:42 Jun 10, 2020

I love this! I didn't know anything about India before, but this was really interesting and eye-opening. Like Rose said, it's so interesting how almost every culture has the same problems to overcome. I guess mankind doesn't change much across the world, does it?

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Roshna Rusiniya
13:49 Jun 10, 2020

Thanks Magnet. Yes, this is one of the biggest curses India is facing now. Every culture has its own demons to deal with. It’s not going to be easy.

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Jatin Mulani
18:37 Jul 06, 2020

Wow Spectacular!! Splendid I loved it and found life-changing stuff in it... Keep it up

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:02 Jul 06, 2020

Thank you! Appreciate you reading and commenting!

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Brita Sherren
00:46 Jun 22, 2020

Incredible.

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Roshna Rusiniya
01:36 Jun 22, 2020

Thank you for reading Brita! Really appreciated!

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Arman Javed
11:04 Jun 19, 2020

Amazing and impressive story! Good luck

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Roshna Rusiniya
06:28 Jun 20, 2020

Thank you for reading Arman. Appreciate it!

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Ari .
02:32 Jun 18, 2020

The more I read, the more real Misha became. Her voice resonated so much that I had to double-check to make sure she was fictional. I usually try to give technical feedback, but all I can think to say right now is 'WOW!'

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Roshna Rusiniya
02:56 Jun 18, 2020

Thank you for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it. ❤️ Like I mentioned before, Misha is fictional but her struggles are real.

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Conda Douglas
23:16 Jun 16, 2020

Good story. It reminds me of when I lived in Singapore in 1978. We had a Tamil woman as a weekly house cleaner. I'm a natural red head and very fair-skinned. She would try to stop me going outside during the day because the sun would hurt my beautiful skin!

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Roshna Rusiniya
07:25 Jun 17, 2020

Thank you for reading and commenting Conda. It’s a widely popular belief back in India.

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Anja Z
23:09 Jun 16, 2020

This is an amazing and enlightning story thank you. Keep up the good and amazing work .

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Roshna Rusiniya
07:26 Jun 17, 2020

Thank you for reading and commenting Anja. Really appreciated!

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