A Story of Colour. People of Colour.
Amid global outrage against racial profiling and colourism around the globe following the death of George Floyd in the USA, popular Indian matrimonial website shaadi.com faced backlash from netizens and online petitions as it had a feature on their website that allowed people to look for potential matches based on their skin colour.
The online petition to remove the complexion filter from shadi.com's website was started by Hetal Lakhani from Dallas, USA. In a matter of hours, her petition received more than 1,500 signatures supporting her cause and sparked a conversation online about the controversial 'skin colour filter' of shaadi.com
In her online petition, Lakhani stated: "Shaadi.com has a colour filter that asks users to indicate the colour of their skin using descriptors like ‘Fair’, ‘Wheatish’, and ‘Dark’ and allows users the ability to search for potential partners on the basis of their skin colour. We demand that Shaadi.com must permanently remove its skin colour filter to prevent users from selectively searching for matches based on their preferred skin colour.”
Many netizens took cognizance of the online petition started by Lakhani and criticised shaadi.com for promoting discriminatory features on their matrimonial website. The petition forced the company to take down the feature overnight from their website.
Later, in a tweet by shaadi.com, the company stated that the feature or filter "doesn't have any implication on the matchmaking". The company, however, admitted that it was a "blind spot" and the feature has since been removed from the website.
My first exposure to racism came from my own country, India. We all grow up believing fairer is better. The voices of ‘fairer is lovelier’ were always around us. As children, we don’t know any better and live in an environment where we are conditioned to believe that the darker you are, the less attractive you are. Even as a child, we suspect that there was something wrong with that attitude, but we were too young to fully understand it.
In our country, matrimonial ads and even school textbooks sometimes say we will have better prospects of finding a partner if we are fairer. It should come as no surprise that a product promising fairness would thrive in a free market here in India. It should also not come as a surprise that advertising preaches that we would get a better job, a happier marriage, and more beautiful children if we were fair. We are conditioned to believe that life would have been easier had we been born fairer.
Corporate giants are only doing what they have been doing for centuries, i.e. exploiting our weaknesses. The English East India Company, arguably the first corporate giant in the world, was an ‘Indian’ company. I wish that part of history which was given more attention in our textbooks today. We were the original guinea pigs, and today, ironically, we are voluntarily following in the footsteps of the imperial powers. We are unaware of our actions. We are being fed a narrative that the American people were fed in the early part of the 20th century by individuals.
From Nagaland to Kerala to Kashmir, how do you sell one notion of beauty to such a diversity of people? Shouldn’t we be selling ‘healthy skin’ to these communities instead of ‘white-skin’? People from the Northeast have beautiful eyes. Why do we call them “chinkies”? Why do they often complain of being called foreigners in their own country, particularly in the western states? What does an ‘Indian’ really look like?
Fairness creams don’t just sell in India; they are big business in China and Japan as well. In Hollywood, it is often said that outside of a Will Smith or a Denzel Washington, black actors don’t sell as easily in India or China as their white counterparts do. At the same time, we applaud when one of our own makes it on Western shores. How can we ask them to be aware of their racism when we are unaware of our own? And how are we connected to Asia in this mass obsession for ‘white’ skin?
Hindustan Unilever’s move last week to drop the word "fair" from its "Fair & Lovely" products was also considered significant, as it came after years of calls to drop the branding or stop selling the creams, which dominate the skin-lightening cream market in India and have been endorsed by Bollywood celebrities, as well as other youth icons.