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“What Went Wrong With Her? Is She Adopted?” My Struggle With The ‘Kali-Kalooti’ Complex

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By Jyoti Kumari:

This is something I have never spoken about to anyone, not friends, not family, and definitely not relatives. I read Kainat’s article on Youth Ki Awaaz which was on similar lines, and it made me realize that small things add up to a bigger picture, and until and unless we start raising our voice against it, people won’t understand and will continue to take it as a joke.

So here I am, doing my bit.

silhouette of a girl
Photo Credit: Michelle Carl

I must have been 12 when my mother and I had this conversation; she told me what went through her mind when she was expecting her second child. As she lay in a hospital bed in the maternity ward, the lady on the next bed had just had a child, and it was a boy with ‘dark complexion’. At that instant, she prayed “Please God, let it be a boy, even if his complexion is dark”. The entire maternal side of my family was hoping for the same, and boy were they disappointed (if the stories are to be believed, “they were really sad”). Their prayers backfired and my mother delivered me – ‘a girl’, and that too ‘dark’. On the other hand, my father was the happiest man that day and thanked God for sending Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth in Indian mythology) to his house.

The Fault In My Face

This was only the trailer of what was coming next for me. I am sure everyone is aware of the word “bullying” and its meaning. You must have seen many movies and read articles about it. I used to believe that it generally happens to people who are not physically strong, have low or no confidence, belong to minority groups or different religions, etc. I faced another kind of bullying – ‘complexion bullying’. Believe me; I didn’t realize it till I turned 18.

While I was in school, some people called me names like ‘kali‘ or ‘kalooti‘. I ignored them, or tried to hide myself whenever I could, often looking for another route to reach my classroom without being spotted and insulted. I didn’t have a problem with them calling me names, but I pity those who segregate and differentiate among people on the basis of complexion.

Who were these people who bullied me? They were none other than the loving uncles and aunts, close relatives, sweet neighbours, friends, and people dear to me. At least, they were in my case.

We were residing in an Army colony and one question my parents were asked repeatedly everywhere I went with them was – “Is that your child? She doesn’t resemble any one of you. What went wrong with her? Is she adopted?”
The answer of adoption appeared to be the best answer to me (sometimes I have used it to freak out people). Whenever these questions were posed, I wanted to punch all of them. However, I did nothing about it, because all of this happened in front of my parents, and they never said a word. When they couldn’t do anything, what difference would I have made by raising my voice?

The Fight With The ‘Kali-Kalooti’ Complex

My relatives would say that no one will marry me and even if somebody said ‘yes’ then my parents most probably would be required to give a minimum of Rs 20 lakh in dowry. Every time someone visited my house they would assure my parents by saying “Badi hogi toh colour change ho jayega” (She’ll become fairer as she grows up). The best example they would give was of Kajol (Indian actress), how she had been ‘ugly and dark’ in ‘Baazigar’, and how she transformed into a ‘fair beauty’ in ‘DDLJ’.

These things influenced me so much that by the time I reached class 12th, I couldn’t interact with my classmates. I had developed a severe inferiority complex; I had no confidence, I could never get myself to fight people who called me names because I was made to believe that there was something lacking in me and I was at fault. Some of them still believe that.

But I don’t.

This whole experience made me empathize with my mother’s thoughts. She knew where my dark complexion would lead to. The kind of society we are living in, marriage is the ultimate end goal, everything in between is the means to that end.

It holds true for ‘fatsos, dedh footiyas, sookha tinkas’, basically anyone who doesn’t fit into the ‘perfect picture’ of a human, be it a girl or a boy.

I could write about what inspired a change in me, and made me fight back but it will bring you no good. There is no single way for it. Everyone needs to find their own path. Be perfectly imperfect. You have to find your own hero, and more often than not, that hero is you.

I am 22. I am pretty. And that definitely has nothing to do with not being ‘fair & lovely’. I am more than dark. I am enough.

You must be to comment.
  1. ashish kumar

    A agree what jyoti want to say by this article and it’s very true that people discriminate because of dark complexsion. This narrow or i would say “ghatiya soch” should be removed from each and every one minds. Dark complexsion is not the issue the things is what people think about that is very wrong..

  2. yuvika yadav

    amazing.. 🙂 so its time for india to change now..complexion does not define beauty

  3. annanas1

    Hey, well written. I’m European and I don’t get this “fair and beauty” Indian thing. Someone can be ugly in so many different ways but still tastes vary and I believe anyone can find his/ her partner that will find them pretty. This person will not perceive you as too fat, too thin, too big nose, too wide mouth, too flat, too curved. It seems in India there is just one condition you must meet to be pretty. You must be fair skinned. What a BS. My advice about marriage? Never marry an Indian guy. Anyone else will be with you cause he’ll find you pretty as you are and cause your characters match. I’d say to be with someone like that is worth more than be married just to be married.
    Plus a lot of white girls dream to be dark. They use cosmetics to DARKEN their skin. How ironic is that?

  4. surveen

    am also dark skinned. nd these things used to really hurt me till i was 18 ….but now I’ve understand that its not me who imperfect its just their stupid thinking cz all they can see in a person is just his/her skin color.i dont hate them but i really pity them cz they cant raise their mentality from a certain level.
    once i read a quote.
    There’s more to life than skin color.
    and thar really inspired me 🙂

  5. Just Me

    I was born with cleft lip and palate. I always had a scar above my lips and I had hypoplasia(my upper jaw lacked growth, so the entire upper jaw was behind my lower jaw) and my speech was a whole mess.
    Until the age of 14 I did not know what this thing really was, i just knew it had something to do with my mouth. My parents were very supportive, they would correct my speech now and then and always ask me to go for school debates and speeches and never said no to this even when I never won any price, This continues even now.
    Now I am 15 and I Wikied what cleft is and came to know about this, though my parents have never spoken to me about cleft directly, I was fine with it because they think that I will feel bad or my present confidence level might go down. But now at the age of 15 after getting my hands on everything about my treatment, I explain my family and friends about what Cleft is.
    I do get stares and comments “behind my back” (Only innocent little kids come and ask me what is wrong with my face an d I just smile), but that does not bother me because they do not know that I am ONE among a 1000. And now I plan on getting my jaw done saw that my speech becomes clear and then my sis won’t have to translate everything that I say 😛 but I do not plan on getting any further facial corrections just for the sake of fitting in.
    I am JUST ME n I will always be…

  6. Bhaskar Thakur

    The only things that defines you is your work. Things like complexion, height etc. are the metrics used by bullshit people to judge other people. Go On, Go Strong!

  7. Navya Kattikireddy

    Inspiring and yes, I will share my story as well one day… To be here I struggled a lot but when I think about people who are fighting to survive.. I feel motivated… Motivated to move forward, ignore ignorant, do and think what i have to!
    Yes, I am brown and beautiful!!

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