By Smita Ruth:
I love the colour black. Given a choice, I will any day prefer the colours of the dark night to the brightness of the blazing sun. I have always chosen dark colours over whites, creams and pastels. The swarthy beauty of skin tones has never been a problem – for my loved ones or me. On the contrary, that is precisely what would get my silly heart racing. No wonder I fell in love with a dark-skinned man. I could, like all lovers, only see him with a halo in those initial days of passion. His dark skin blazed into my heart as the beauty of a thousand suns.
When I held my daughter close to me for the first time, I felt the pride of a new mother. She looked so tiny and lovely. She was as dark as my handsome man.
Yet, I have felt the world like a slap after she was born. My mother held my baby for the first time and her first comment hurt me beyond belief. “You will have to shell out a fortune to hunt for a bridegroom for this one later.” I wanted to snatch my precious one from the vision of inadequacy she would have to live with, for the rest of her life.
Her growing up has given me a glimpse of the racism that we Indians practice on a daily basis. The association of darkness with dirt seems to be so common. And children, in their direct insensitivity (euphemistically called “innocence”) scream it out to my beautiful one every day. Each time they fight with her, she becomes the “gandi ladki” (dirty girl). In fact, she finds it difficult to make new friends easily because she is not seen as ‘cute’ and therefore, not worthy of befriending.
All the serials she is fond of watching, repeatedly show people with dark skin tones as villains or comedians. I would love to leave her once in a while in the company of Chhota Bheem and take that longed for tiny little catching-up-recharge-naps of every full-time guilty mother. But the violence that plays (and she imbibes against herself) while she gets hooked on to the visuals, bothers me no end. The red cheeks of the sidekick female child character (apart from the other violence of villainous Muslims and lovable Hindus) actually give me sleepless nights. The message that gets into her, that girls are only sidekicks anyway, and they need to look “pretty”, and prettiness equals pink cheeks on a white face has a direct bearing on our lives. I pray fervently for an animator who would dare to tell stories of dark and interesting girls. And, I am yet to see one in the horizon.
I know this situation has a name. Yet, we in India, and we Indians, we believe we are not that. We are above that. We look down upon South Africa for the Apartheid, yet, we are precisely that. Racists!
I also suspect it gets complicated and mixed with various other prejudices of a particularly desi kind here. The north Indians looking down upon South Indians, the Savarnas are disgusted by the Avarnas who are considered dark skinned and so on and so forth. The frequent use of the word “gandi” (dirty) that my little one faces makes it clear to be that the disgust and repulsion expressed has deep caste connotations.
I hold my sweetheart close to me when I write these words. I send these out into the anonymous intimacy of all your flickering computer screens. I hope that reading this, you will hold my child tomorrow – like any child, a human being with a possibility and beauty. That you will see and say that the next dark child you come across is as interesting and worth engaging with as any other child.