Indian Colourism: Origins and its residual effects


While some people might not be familiar with the concept or term colourism, rest assured for everyone has indulged in it. The oxford dictionary defines colourism as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” Perpetuated by both the oppressed and the oppressor alike, it is deeply entrenched in the average person’s psyche. Discussions of such topics are often littered with defensive stances and refusal to believe in one’s own fallacy. People tend to gloss over the microaggressions they partake in every day unbeknownst to themselves.


If we try to look at the roots of the issue and where its origins lie, if there are any, one will find being ruled by fairer-skinned Aryans, Mughals, and Europeans a recurring theme. However, was there no discrimination on the basis of skin in ancient India? The ancient texts portrayed dark-complexioned princes and princesses, gods and heroes in the same light as their fairer counterparts. They were allowed to be heroic and dark and beautiful not in spite of their skin tone but because of it. Lord Krishna’s—whose name means black itself—statues could be dark while Radha’s were made from marble. Times seem to have changed with idols carved in lighter stones selling exponentially more. India’s fanatic obsession hasn’t exempted even gods.


The Britishers moulded the pliable atmosphere after the end of the Mughal rule to their benefit. They were modernized and scientific here to save the uncivilized natives from our erroneous ways. They were symbols of power, class, and status. Who wouldn’t want to be like them? If dogs and Indians were not allowed inside exclusive clubs, who wouldn’t want to shed a part of them for a better life? Thus, colourism unfurled its tendrils. If you weren’t white, be the next best thing. Being white adjacent would land you better opportunities. With the English came the Eurocentric beauty standards. Other places have loosened these to let in talents from diversified backgrounds, but India is still stuck with the remnants of British rule.  




  Manufacturers seized the perfect opportunity by preying on the insecurities of the general public who desperately longed for upward mobility to escape from their circumstances. In 2019, the Indian skin lightening industry was reportedly worth nearly Rs 3000 crore. Bollywood jumped on the bandwagon and ingrained in all our minds that only fair can be attributed to lovely. With whitewashing actors in commercials and casting only fair actresses as love interests, the message was clear: there is no space for dark-skinned actors to be leads in a country of dark-skinned people.


We have internalized the messaging and bigoted ideals. So much to find fair attached to qualities in every matrimonial. To use skin bleaching and lightening products even after knowing their harmful effects. We have attached our self-worth and ability to be seen as desirable and worthy of respect and love to the shade of our skin. We have broken the hearts of millions of innocent kids who would grow to doubt themselves because what they see in the mirror will always resemble the dirt beneath their feet more than it ever does their favourite actor. Change is long overdue.  


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