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How Much Privilege Does It Take To Make One Indifferent To India’s Fair Skin Obsession?

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We The Women, an event hosted by Barkha Dutt in Bengaluru, invited Sara Ali Khan as a guest to the festival focusing on women empowerment. A woman of her calibre was welcomed by the audiences wholeheartedly. From her extensive royal background, cinema background, Columbia background and oh-so-much privileged background; she was applauded and appreciated both online and offline for her ‘witty’ take on usually ‘radical’ feminism and nepotism.

After her consideration as the non-cliche star kid, Sara was acknowledged as the talented and educated princess who was also a great dancer and had a commendable journey of weight loss. A few months back, a fiasco with an Africa-themed photo shoot for Filmfare did not go down well with audiences and was slammed as racist.

To be honest, everyone expects much more from you when you are a Politics and History graduate from an Ivy League college. However, she is back at it again at her distinct non- reflective privilege and utmost inability to understand that colour runs not only skin-deep but socially, historically, oppressively and personally deep.

Sara Ali Khan On Skin Colour

Did Sara Ali Khan flub her lines while talking about India’s fair skin obsession? The young actor was speaking to Barkha Dutt at the We The Women summit in Bengaluru.

Posted by Brut India on Friday, 15 November 2019

She said, “If you wanna be tan, just put some on some bronzer, and if you wanna be fair, put on some powder. It’s not the end of the world, and it shouldn’t define you at all. There is a higher probability and success rate for you to attempt to change yourself, than the world, because they are not going to change.”

I understand where she comes from, statements like “be comfortable in your own skin,” “admire your own self,” “beauty lies within yourself,” “acceptance is the key,” surround my mind right now. Try saying the same to a 10-year-old who was mocked by her classmates this morning for being kali (black).

Try telling her as she cries, leaving a layer of Fair and Lovely adorned on her pillow, that it shouldn’t define her at all. Self-confidence is appreciated, but it arises only after accepting oneself. But, when you’re surrounded with countless mockery and comments day in and day out, that is your world.

A woman who is conventionally fair-skinned and comes from an extremely privileged (hell, princess-y even) background along with international education – it is expected of her to be considerate and aware of the issues pertaining to colourism in a country which is dominantly brown-skinned!

In a country where anyone slightly higher on the whiteness scale is regarded as the epitome of beauty, no wonder she is indifferent to her privilege. A simple dab of powder doesn’t resolve colour politics here! Years and years of applying Fair and Lovely doesn’t curb the deep seated insecurity that a dark-skinned woman goes through.

There’s a reason why fair-skinned actresses are cast as dark-skinned; why they would rather choose a Yami Gautam instead of a Konkona Sen Sharma. Years of efforts by Nandita Das falls to pieces when another woman of the same industry says yet another stupid thing about a skin nuska (tricks, or tips).

You cannot ask someone to love themselves when society constantly reminds them that they’re nothing more than their colour, that they need to be fair to get a suitable marriage proposal or a job or even their right to smile. Colour correction apps, clothing according to your skin colour, lipstick according to your skin colour, a partner according to your skin colour, and what not. A non-privileged woman who is dark-skinned applies powder not to just be fair, but to shut society up, because she’s trapped under the constant advice on how to be fair.

The idea of desiring to be fair doesn’t emerge simply from choice, rather, from years of conditioning. There’s a reason why India doesn’t believe in getting tanned. There’s a reason why the fairness industry still flourishes. There’s a reason why every woman feels a deeply hidden insecurity surrounding their colour. It’s not as simple as applying powder or getting a tan, it’s about the question why. Why do you want to change your colour?

I understand where she comes from, speaking of self-acceptance and building up confidence, but as a person who has battled years of insecurity regarding her colour, it’s easier said than done. You do not attain self-confidence overnight. Sometimes, the more you try, the more you confront, the more it devours you.

As a woman who is dark-skinned, my insecurity runs deeper, much deeper than being available to be hidden by just a dab of powder. It takes years to build yourself up, to put your colour aside, accept yourself. Yet, all it takes is one comment, one statement, to break down years of confidence.

And Sara Ali Khan, as a person of privilege, in all fairness (pun intended), doesn’t get to dictate my colour, to subdue my insecurity, to break my history with colourism in a country which worships Kali.

Featured image source: We The Women/YouTube.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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