Here is an honest account of life as a brown-skinned South Indian woman living in North India. The author of this blog post has chosen to remain anonymous. Don’t forget to show some love by leaving your encouragement in the comments section.
It so happened that I was often one of the very few girls with dark skin, whether in school, college or in my family, were most of my cousins were lighter or paler than me. Nothing was really wrong with it – at least I never felt anything odd about being my dark self. Throughout my childhood and adolescent years I saw that a lot of people would admire me, point out my sharp features and clear complexion, and casually call me a black or dusky beauty (கருப்பு அழகி). At times it even got to my head!
A few, however, would criticise my skin colour and say that it was rather unfortunate for a girl to be dark-skinned. While a lighter shade of darkness– politely called wheatish or மாநிறம் was okay, mine wasn’t! Some mean people would even ridicule me by calling me a blacky or கருப்பி and this included my very own large family. Yet, I grew up happily in a positive environment without the smallest regret. Most often I brushed aside the mean stuff, as in my heart I was a beautiful person on the outside and inside. What mattered to me most was that I liked seeing myself in the mirror and loved my chocolatey complexion.
Well that was me, until my parents started to look for a suitable groom for me to marry. It was only then that the naivety of my childhood was shattered!
Very quickly I realized that people from my part of the country were collectively called ‘Madrasi’ (a term to refer to people of South Indian ancestry).
Like a vast majority of Indians, I chose an arranged marriage over love. Honestly speaking, being dark-skinned, I never grabbed the attention of any men. While fair skinned girls did attract more suitors– at least by face value, I knew that only an intelligent man would go for the person that I am and not my complexion.
The typical process of composing a matrimonial advertisement, having to describe myself as wheatish and not dark, and being subjected to a series of marriage alliances was rather painful. Worse, when you are rejected without a word being said but apparently for being too dark!
Once again, because I was either too obsessed with myself or too used to the societal stereotypes, I thought this was after all a process that most girls in my part of the country would go through. Hence, none of these stereotypes really affected my psyche.
I believed that those who could not see beauty beyond a person’s skin were simply clichéd and tasteless. Today, the good Lord has blessed me with a great partner and two beautiful daughters – both with different skin tones, and the cycle of life continues with them too!
A Systemic Pattern Of Colourism
Colourism in the Indian context is intertwined with language, colour, caste, economics, politics, history and more. Take skin colour for instance, in the Indian mind, Southern Indians are the dark-skinned others and Northerners the universally lighter-skinned Indians.
Once, an elderly north Indian woman who visited our home asked me, “are you all from India?” Lol! Ironically though, the Southerners (Dravidians) are the original inhabitants of India and the Northerners (Aryans) are supposedly invaders from Central Asia. This ethnic divide between the groups is the prime reasons for discrimination along the lines of racism and colourism.
I became aware of a more systemic pattern of colourism only after I joined the armed forces, where for the first time I came to work with a majority of Northerners. Very quickly I realized that people from my part of the country were collectively called ‘Madrasi’ (a term to refer to people of South Indian ancestry). While people from other Northern states were also titled similarly, there was something strangely discriminatory about the way they addressed the Southerners.
It was obvious that a strong independent lady of colour was never going to be appreciated or liked and this hurt me deeply!
Although I was conscious for the first time of colourism around me, I couldn’t be bothered much with the immaturities of the insipid and ignorant, but the one thing that really really hurt me deeply was the bias based on skin colour at work– when they discriminated my work based on my skin colour, when they laughed with me but actually disliked me, when they were intimidated by my professionalism and conspired against me.
I could have just let this all pass as gender bias, but even within it there was colourism!!! It was obvious that a strong independent lady of colour was never going to be appreciated or liked and this hurt me deeply!
I have come a long way and I’ve learned to live, love and be happy anyway. Years later, I still believe that no one can ever make you feel inferior without your consent! After all, we are all just humans who come into this world in different skin tones, shapes and sizes, and despite our stereotypical notions and preferences we all have our insecurities and weaknesses. Happiness truly comes from within and I am eternally thankful to the good Lord for everything that happened to me!
Shobhana 🙂 (name changed)
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