By Jagpreet Luthra in Delhi
Tuesday 07 October 2003, 13:40 Makka Time, 10:40 GMT
Colour prejudice against people with dark skin in a country such as India defies common sense.
The sun shines bright here throughout the year - except in the snow-capped Himalayan region - and two of the most revered Hindu deities, Krishna and Shiva, are the colour of a beautiful night sky, not to mention the religion's supreme goddess Kali (meaning black).
If black still connotes blemish rather than beauty in India, the reasons, say experts, are historical and political.
“Colour prejudice is an offshoot of the bigger evil of casteism in India,” says Udit Raj, leader of the Indian Justice Party, which represents Dalits or the oppressed tribes and castes in the traditional political system.
The hold of the caste system in India is deep, dark skin is the skin of the lowest castes, traditionally the subjugated people and, therefore, disagreeable,” he says.
The country's foreign rulers, whether Mughal or British, were also light-skinned. This, says the Dalit leader, has contributed to shaping social attitudes in India.
“Fair skin became a symbol of power and wealth and those who equate beauty with it are subconsciously hankering after a higher status; those who are shunning black are, perhaps, rejecting the slavery that it connotes whether in India or in the US.”
Ideally, the Hindu religion should have gifted the average Indian a great love for black, and not only because the most loved Hindu gods are this colour, says Baba Goswami, 78-year-old Hindu leader of a Krishna cult, the West Bengal-based Gaurang Ashram.
“While white is the colour of light and purity, black, like the night, connotes a dissolution of all form.” says Baba Goswami, who, however, agrees that such “profound interpretations” are beyond the average person’s understanding, which is why, “despite the deep hold of religion on the Indian mind there is colour prejudice in society.”
Udit Raj, who, like many Dalits, converted to Buddhism, believes that Hindu religion has reinforced rather than removed racial prejudice in the country, mostly “through the evil of casteism.”
Besides, “only a few of the 33 million gods are dark, the rest are all fair,” he points out.
The story of Ramayana, the most popular Indian epic, he underlines, is “all about the victory of fair-skinned and noble Ram over the black and evil Ravana.”
What religious and political leaders find most alarming about this subtle racism in India is that already disadvantaged groups like women, tribal and lower caste people are caught in its vortex.
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