by Nurussakinah Mahmud
The thing with marriage in Asia (mostly) is that you don’t just marry the groom or bride. When you marry someone, indirectly you are marrying the whole family too. And this is proven very solidly in Indian culture as most marriages are arranged by the parents. Every criteria for the bride must be filled satisfyingly for a marriage to occur, and with how badly obsessed the Indian society perceived fair skin as a criteria of beauty it was no wonder that most parents seek fair-skinned bride for their son.
While other cultures doubtlessly also have the affinity for searching for fair-skinned brides, in my opinion, they are not really that straight forward about it. In Malay society for example, I don’t think anyone will blatantly say to your face that they do not want to marry you because you are dark-skinned or your chance of getting married will be less than other people.
But the Indian society is kind of the opposite. They are openly stating it, in the matrimonial sites’ profiles and newspaper advertisements, even to the girl’s face, that they want a fair skin girl. In fact, as I searched through the matrimonial sites, they even have tags for skin preference which is quite shocking I must say. And while the author in the book (Jyotsna Vaid) mentions three types of skin colour the Indian usually been associated with, gora or gori (fair or light skin), saanwala (wheatish brown) and kala or kali (dark), the skin preference section only have fair, very fair and wheatish tags. Even though as we know, most people in the southern part of India generally have a much darker skin, so few of people actually admitted of having the dark skin while the rest self identify themselves as fair or at least wheatish.
Colorism is having quite a strong grasp on Indian society. Even among those who live in overseas for a very long time, the stigma that having fair skin is better than being darker is still running deep in the heart of the immigrants from India. In fact, now that they are living in overseas and their daughter may be the second or third generation there, most parents who wrote the profile for the matrimonial sites on behalf of their daughter now included ‘very fair’ to emphasize how very much lighter their daughter’s skin is, in comparison to the fair skin girl in India.
Just what is it that makes the skin colour such an obsession in Indian society? Some argue that it was implemented on their mind since the British reigned in India for more than a century. During this period of oppression, white people signified the superiority and richness as compared to the local, whom were at that time, were only servants or slaves. The mentality continues on to the modern days with the effects of globalization and media, of how beauty is always being described as having fairer skin through the commercialization and marketing of skin lightening products, as well as the influence of Bollywood idols.
As the stigma and prejudice continue, the girls with darken skin colour find themselves having a lot of problems regarding self-esteem and to always be blamed for something they could not possibly alter – the DNA or genetics that make up for their darker skin. Adding the practice of paying dowry to the groom into the equation, the discrimination is heightened as dark skin girls are subjected to a higher dowry price than lighter skin girls as compensation.
Although India is one of the fast developing countries, the blatant discrimination and social injustice especially toward women is still so worrying. As quoted by a Harvard professor in regard to colorism in India: “the sadness here, I guess, is that these are not subtle biases, they are expressed overtly to deny people access to opportunity and resources.”
Fair and Ugly – Indian Americans and Skin Colour Politics. Retrieved from http://newamericamedia.org/2010/03/fair-and-ugly—indian-americans-and-skin-color-politics.php
All’s Fair in Love and Cream. http://www.michelepolak.com/200fall11/Weekly_Schedule_files/Sheyde_1.pdf