In her post she savaged the idea that skin colour, and the widespread bias against people with darker tones, could be a joking matter. “In a country where … people don’t get jobs because of their complexion, where every matrimonial advert demands a fair bride or groom … in a country where dark skin is marginalised, making fun of it is not a roast,” she wrote.
The open celebration of fair complexions in India can be striking. One of Bollywood’s most popular songs last year was the syrupy Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan, performed by a lip-synching Sri Lankan actor, Jacqueline Fernandez. All the rage at Indian weddings, its refrain goes: “Please agree, take me shopping. Please listen, show me a romantic movie. I ask you, white wrists, I’ve got white wrists.”
It’s not just India of course. Common across much of southern Asia.
In part the preference for light complexions in India is a colonial hangup. “Remember, we’ve been ruled by fair skin,” said Hansal Mehta, a veteran director, writer and actor from Mumbai.
But Chatterjee, in her post and subsequent interviews, put the blame on an older blight: India’s tenacious caste system, a rigid social strata that some scholars trace back three millennia to the epic folklore that forms Hindu orthodoxy.
“Upper caste equals fair skin equals touchable. Lower caste equals dark skin equals untouchable,” Chatterjee wrote in her post. “Yes, I have pronounced it. Probably most of us will not admit that our hatred for dark skin also comes from caste bias.”
Yes, but not exclusively so. It’s perhaps more deeply rooted in India because of caste. But you can find the beginnings of the same thoughts in Jane Austen. Mother fussing about the girls wearing bonnets so they don’t get the sunshine and thus freckles. Any form of tan might indicate, as with freckles, that they were girls who actually had to work outside and thus were common.
This entirely flipped, and quickly, with indoor work and foreign holidays.
However, to Gary Becker. He said that such prejudice was costly to those expressing the prejudice. Those discriminated against were therefore cheaper in the marketplace than those not so. Meaning that a young man in search of a wife might well now deliberately seek out those with darker skins. For the same set of attributes that he has he may well be able to trade for a sweeter nature, a better dowry (hey, this is India!) or a better pair of bazoombas. Or, if he’s actually serious about the wife bit, a better cook.
Yes, I know, how patriarchal and sexist of me. But the increasing urbanisation of India is going to lead to this happening anyway. For the larger the market the less such discrimination is going to “work”.