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Why Are We Okay With Black Everywhere Except On Our Own Skin?

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Disclaimer:  These incidents are not intended to suck you into the painful memory lane of the past, but it’s a small trailer of experiences that you might have had some time in your life. I mention these just so that you understand the context better.

  • “No, No, do not go swimming, you will get dark no. “
  • “I told you no need to go to any Goa voa, now see what have you made of your skin, it is dark like coal.”
  • ” How can you deny this ‘rishta‘, you know how dark she is, be thankful that this boy agreed after all nobody wants a dark bride”
  • ” See what you have made of your skin living alone, what will your in-laws say.”
  • “I don’t care if you apply perfume or not, but you definitely have to apply this ‘ubtan‘, ( homemade mask), I don’t want your father shouting at me to not being able to make you fair enough. “
  • ” I think this girl will be best for our boy, the other one is no doubt talented, but this one is fairer no!”
Image used for representational purposes only.

The above-mentioned incidents are a few remarks that I have heard in my life for myself or from other girls around me. Unfortunately, most of the times, they seemed almost normal, instead of offending. Living in this society where skin colour is much more important than virtues, good habits, behaviours, talent, skill, beauty, and character, it seemed normal that to be liked by all, it is necessary to be fair. As much as you can be. Because dark skin colour is a sign of ugliness, a sign that speaks that you are inferior and unsuitable for anyone. Listening to this on a loop since you are born, you are not equipped to think otherwise. It is sad but true.

That is the reason why, often, girls do all that can be done to be fair, even if it is spending thousands of rupees in treatment and products that claim to brighten their skin. The irony is in the fact that Lord Krishna, in Hindi mythology, stands out for his dark skin. But of course, he is a male and I don think so I need to say that at least in Indian society, the stigma of skin colour is forced more on women than men.

History has many incidents where mass protests were held to save the honour and dignity of people who are black-skinned, be it than the famous movement of Apartheid led by Nelson Mandela in South Africa or the insult of Mahatma Gandhi in same South Africa while he was a barrister there.

But what brings more shame is its absorption in the Indian society weaving it into a person’s ability, talent, and beauty, the latter being a crucial one. For decades, our advertisements have been guided by a master aim- to make all the women of the country fairer. Without a fair skin, they have to remain alone without a partner, cannot get a job, cannot succeed in school and examinations, cannot stand up with their head held high, and all of this is considered sort of disgrace to the family. A simple advertisement showing dark women suddenly turning fairy white, with just applying the cream, is an example of how the society is obsessed with fair skin and anything below it is a shame.

Every lack in the societies’ ways’, every loophole in their foundation is a big opportunity for businesses to thrive. For example, the desperation of politicians to blame each other by playing dirty games is a free cue for the news channels to encash their weakness in the form of new controversies and features. The same is the case with the beauty industry. India hosts a 500 million dollar skin whitening industry and we the citizens, we the society, and we the victims get manipulated into buying them. They give out new ways to convince us that black skin is a black spot on our personality and we should be shameful of it.

They convince us that a pea-sized amount of chemically infused solution will brighten our skin, opening doors to opportunities like handsome guys, trophies in talent competitions and all the love of the world. Unfortunately, we are easily convinced. A fairer girl is liked more among the family than the darker one, the darker being deprived of the word beautiful for herself.

And as it is said that we make the society and not vice-versa, therefore it is on us to turn the tables. It is on us to see both black and white-skinned people in the same light. It is us who can close this 500 million dollar industry by putting out there that we need not use any skin-brightening formulas.

‘Black lives matter’ is the biggest truth of the generation. People with black skin are exactly the same as everyone else. We have no right to judge someone on the basis of skin colour, as it is the colour of the heart that makes a person beautiful in the long run and not the colour of the skin.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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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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