The price of being dark-skinned in India

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“My mother always tells me the story of how I was born whiter. One day, when my mother was pregnant my grandmother gave my mother four white sweets called Rasgulla. She was told that if she took them, her child would be born fair. She took one each morning until I was born, I was white. During the pregnancy of my younger brother she did the same thing, and he also came out white. My mother’s sister did not apply my grandmother’s idea of becoming whiter during her first two pregnancies, so her first two children were born dark. However when she was pregnant with her last born she decided to take the sweet and my cousin was born white.”

There I sat, looking at Sanjana, a beautiful fair skinned, dark eyed and dark haired girl from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in North India, as she told me the almost like mystical myth of how she was born light. In the background the fan viciously span, creating a soothing rhythm and breeze as we bared the Indian heat, she giggled, “I don’t know how true this story is, but whatever it was it seemed to have worked”.

Colourism is something that is not new to me. Growing up in Britain as a dark skinned black girl, I would always hear comments such as, ‘You’re pretty for a dark skinned girl’ and ‘You don’t have dark skinned features’. Such phrases in what the other person thought I’d receive as a compliment left me feeling uncomfortable and inadequate. It was as if dark-skinned women were not supposed to be beautiful and that my skin tone was associated with ugliness. As time went on colourism in Britain had become less noticeable amongst young black people, but nothing would prepare me for the immense scale that colourism affects everyday life in India.

To my surprise, during my first visit I learned that a lot of Indians share the same complexion as me and majority of them are deeply tanned and brown. Constant images of very light, basically white women dominate Indian media but to my dismay, these women were nowhere to be seen. This led me to question why the images of the women on the windows of each store, every billboard and all over the TV were basically white? Maybe these women do exist in India and I wasn’t looking hard enough to spot them, but I soon came to realise that to find an Indian of a white complexion was like trying to find a white person in Kenya’s rural village of Mulunguni.

When I continued on to ask Sanjana if she felt that she is treated with privileged in comparison to her darker friends, her joyful giggles turned uncomfortable. Then soon into silence, she moved back on her chair and held her hair back “I feel so weird talking about this”. She placed her hand over her soft face as she tried to get her words out. I felt that our completely different shade of brown made her feel, as if what she wanted to say would somehow offend me. “I don’t know, I don’t want to be able to say these things, to be racist, I love black people and it’s just colour, but it’s the way it’s seen here!” I see the frustration by the expression on her face and hand gestures. She was frustrated living in such a society with closed minded views.

I noticed that the emphasis put on colourism in India was linked with beauty and marriage. During my first lesson on India’s living past at Symbiosis University for Liberal Arts, this assumption was clarified. Professor Vijay Kunjeer said that, no matter how intelligent, wealthy or of a high of a social class a bride may be, if she is not of a fairer complexion, then she most likely will not be accepted by her partner’s family because of the believe that having a fair wife will bring a fair child. As you can imagine my first thought was, biology is an amazing thing but not as simple as that. Not too long after, an overwhelming feeling of disappointment flooded my body. Women who looked like me where out-casted simply based on the tone of their skin.

Professor Kunjeer’s words echoed Sanjana’s experience. “My darker cousins always look up to me as if I’m too cool just because I am fairer than them and some are also jealous at the fact that I am fairer than them.” She looked a bit confused as to why anyone would want to be jealous, my first thought was maybe it has nothing to do with her skin tone but the fact that she is simply beautiful. “The place that I come from skin tone matters a lot. Being white is more superior to being black, meaning that you will get a husband before someone who is black. Probably because they think I may get a better guy for marrying or something.”

After I spoke to Sanjana I had time to reflect. It became clear that colourism is an issue that affects mainly women in India where beauty and marriage are interlinked. This was not much different to the old expectations for women all around the globe. It left me wondering, can women escape the media’s expectation of beauty or are we slaves to it no matter how far we run?

Thought of the day

Marion Kisoso
Marion Kisoso

Marion Kisoso-

“We need to be equipped with the knowledge of having a dream and chasing it. Be aware that you have all kinds of potential, this includes; financial knowledge, spiritual growth and a never ending stream of self development.

Because we are all born with potential that is unique, beautiful and huge enough to shake the world!”

Thought of the day

Zawadi Mudibo
Zawadi Mudibo

Zawadi Mudibo (Kenya)-

“If I had to choose whether to educate my son or my daughter. I would pay for my daughter. Men can find a way through in Africa, but for women it is hard.

Our society is suffering because it’s male dominated and not male led. We need leadership from men not dominance.”

Moving forward with FGM 

No longer a taboo subject, women and men are standing strong and loud against FGM.

“I had it done when I was very young, between the age of 9 and 10,” recalls Mary Mwangi, 47, from West London. “It was an old lady who did it, she used a razor”. She pauses to regain strength. “She cut my clitoris off.” The sound of betrayal echoed in her voice and the fear she once had reflected in her eyes as she recalled the day she went through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Mrs Mwangi is one of the 66,000 victims living with the consequences of FGM in the UK. She was mutilated whilst living in Nairobi, Kenya.

FGM is practised around the world mostly in Africa, Middle East, Asia and Brazil as a form of ‘culture’, the girls are told it’s a right of passage to womanhood. “I was told it was for maturity, I remember, they would call you names and make you feel odd if you were a uncut girl.” Says Mary.

A non-medical trained person usually performs FGM with no anaesthetic and re-used tools such as a used razor. There are many physical and psychological complications that are associated with FGM victims. Not only when the procedure is done but also the long-term effects that stay with them.

Recent reports have revealed that over 65,000 British girls are at risk of having FGM and being taken to countries that practise this during school holidays. Whilst Official figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveal that the NHS have treated more than 2,603 women and girls for FGM since September 2014 and that 499 girls were treated in January this year.

Comic relief is currently supporting the fight against FGM as well as other charities working to end it in the UK. The Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD) in particularly is working hard to educate people on the issue.

Adwoa Kwateng- Kluvitse the head of Global Advocacy and Partnership at FORWARD says: “I think everybody has a role to play in raising awareness of the issue, in challenging communities practising the issue and protecting girls who are at risk of having it done and to make sure that FGM is not linked to a ‘good marriage’.”

Mrs Mwangi echoes those words “I condemn it, I will never let my daughter go through it, I believe more girls should be educated on it, that they can say no and it is not a way to woman hood it is just a way to oppress women.”

FORWARD, a leading African diaspora women’s campaign and support charity focuses on three things, FGM, child marriage and Obstetric fistula. But their discussion of FGM is unlike any other campaign and unique in its approach.

The show room at FORWARD’s ‘something about bodies’ art exhibition held at the Red Gallery in East London is vibrant filled women and men from different ethnicities and cultures. All eyes are pinned to the powerful and bright artwork hung on the blank, crystal white canvases. The significance of the messages communicated through the art pieces is phenomenal, it depicts the pain and strength it takes to over come FGM. Art is one way in which the charity aims to bring forward gender equality and advance the safeguarding of the sexual and reproductive health, rights and dignity of African girls and women.

Poems read with such ease yet passion by FORWARD’s Youth team Young People Speak Out (YPSO) grip the audience as they learn the horrors and destruction of FGM through beautifully rhythmical spoken word. Youth member and poet Kadra Abdinasir, 25, explains why they use poetry: “Nobody really knows what FGM is and I wanted to understand it more myself and help other people comprehend it and get their facts straight, ” She then pauses and smiles. “People don’t realise its not actually something that is prescriptive in any religion, it actually pre-dates religion. It’s part of a whole wider patriarchal system. We need to understand it in the context of gender-based violence.”

The issue of FGM has become more widely discussed. Saria Khalifa the Leader of YPSO says: “I remember 5 years ago when I started on the youth program we would do one school every three or four months because they were not interested, but now we are averaging two or three schools a week!”

So far FORWARD has access to over 60 schools across London and they have just reached over 8,000 students. “We work with secondary school students as part of FGM awareness. We do staff training, parent sessions and we also help young people run campaigns in their schools,” Says Ms Khalifa. She adds, “We spend a lot of time in schools to try to get young people to understand how to create a supportive environment for girls and women to disclose and to feel as if they can get help if they need it.”

Further work is being done to ensure children are taught about FGM in schools. The personal Social Health & Economic Education (PSHE) worked with the Home Office and the Department of International Development (DFID) to create FGM as part of the PSHE curriculum in secondary schools, but there is a current problem with the education system. Ms Kwateng- Kluvitse says: “There is a challenge in education, PHSE is no longer compulsory in the school curriculum so where do we place teaching FGM?”

“What we are doing instead, is targeting schools with high proportions of children from practising communities to raise awareness for both boys and girls as to the health and human right violations of not only FGM but also child marriage.”

It is important for young women and men to learn about FGM in the UK and around the world. By raising awareness the world will be one step closer to abolishing the practice.

FGM FACTS

  • There are four common types of FGM
  • 125 million girls and women have experienced FGM globally
  • On average girls undergo FGM between the ages of 5-8
  • 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk in the UK
  • Over 23 different health complications can occur as result of FGM
  • Only 15% of midwives were familiar with available resources on FGM and where to refer women
  • FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985
  • Practicing FGM in the UK carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years

Source: http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/

For support, visit http://www.forwarduk.org.uk or call 020 8960 4000

By Priscilla Ngethe

THINK HAPPY!

I was reading this amazing poster that I have pinned above my bed and I realised it is way too inspiriting to keep to myself.

So may this inspire you to pursue your dreams or simply make you smile. Enjoy!

Live your life
Live your life

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LIVE YOUR LIFE 

AND RISK IT ALL | TAKE CHANCES | TAKE THE FALL

LOVE WHAT YOU DO | DO WHAT YOU LOVE

SMILE!

IF YOU CAN IMAGINE IT YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT, IF YOU CAN DREAM IT YOU CAN BECOME IT 

BE BOLD AND COURAGEOUS WHEN YOU LOOK BACK ON LIFE YOU’LL REGRET THE THINGS YOU DIDN’T DO MORE THAN THE ONES YOU DID

DREAM BIG!

BE GRATEFUL | GIVE LOVE | LAUGH LOTS

TO BE INSPIRED IS GREAT TO INSPIRE IS INCREDIBLE 

THERE’S JUST ONE LIFE TO LIVE AND NO TIME TO WASTE 

FEAR LESS HOPE MORE HATE LESS LOVE MORE AND GOOD THINGS WILL BE YOURS

TAKE CHANCES!

LIVE YOUR DREAM AND WEAR YOUR PASSION 

STAY HAPPY AND BE POSITIVE 

BELIVE THAT ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE 

THINK HAPPY!

LIVE WELL LAUGH OFTEN LOVE ALWAYS 

ALWAYS CHALLENGE YOURSELF 

LIFE ISN’T ABOUT WAITING FOR THE STORM TO PASS IT’S ABOUT LEARNING HOW TO DANCE IN THE RAIN

KEEP YOUR PROMISES!

ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS, FOR ONE DAY YOU MAY LOOK BACK AND REALISE THEY WERE THE BIG THINGS

DO NOT GO WHERE THE PATH MAY LEAD  GO INSTEAD WHERE THERE IS NO PATH AND LEAVE A TRAIL 

GETTING LOST WILL HELP YOU FIND YOURSELF 

DONT GO THROUGH LIFE  GROW THROUGH LIFE 

LIFE IS A JOURNEY ENJOY IT!

DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING  LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT  SING LIKE NO ONE IS LISTENING 

REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE LOVED FOE THE WAY YOU ARE  DON’T TRY TO BE DIFFERENT 

DON’T WAIT FOR THE PERFECT MOMENT TAKE THE MOMENT MAKE IT PERFECT!

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