Color Obsession, Stereotypes and Racism

Kashmiri Muslim perform the Eid -al-Fitr prayer in Srinagar,on wednesday July 6, 2016.PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR/Kashmir Life

The obsession with fair colour in Kashmir is a sad aspect of our society, which at times takes the ugly form of racism. What makes it worse, is the way it’s ignored and accepted by people. There will be a lot of such instances where you’d have come across such obsession. There is a general perception in Kashmir, “Ugliness is the measure of darkness of skin”. I may not be right to say this about all the Kashmiri people, but there is no dearth of people in Kashmir who think on that pattern. In Kashmir, being dark-coloured is a kind of curse, you may not agree, but ask any Kashmiri who is dark complexioned. Ask him about his experience of being a dark-coloured person, and when you’ll hear him speak, you’ll realize how deeper this obsession with fair colour goes, and how far it has moulded itself into blatant racism. I, being a Kashmiri, know well about the qualms and ordeals of this nonsensical obsession, and have experienced it and seen it turn into ugly racism. This obsession reflects the general stereotypes associated with the colour of skin. And the feeling of being superior, reflects the race related complex that runs deep down to the division of our society.

In Kashmir, you come across such colour obsessed (or I may say racist) remarks on a daily basis, ranging from phrases like Kaaluh Waatul (Kaaluh means black and Waatul means Chamaar) to Kruhun Kaav Hyoo (Black as a crow) . The words Kaaluh and Waatul are completely different in syntax and meaning. But when they are combined into one, they make mockery of two things, one is the colour of skin and the other is the Waatal, a caste group and a profession involving leather work. When someone is to be told that he is a disgusting person, people will abuse him by saying, “ho waatlaa! (Hey you, chamaar!)”. Being dark-coloured is no sin, and being a Waatul is no crime. Neither any profession, nor any skin-colour should be mocked, or talked about in a derogatory manner; this is what equality demands and logic defines. Kruhun Kaav Hyoo is used to insult a person who is dark coloured. I don’t see any logic in comparing a dark coloured person with Kaav (Crow). You’ll also come across people calling someone Kaaluh Nasal (from the race of blacks). There are also some people who will abuse another person by calling him a Gujur, or by calling him Gujir Nasal(from the race of Gujjars). To reduce the guilt of some Kashmiri people voting in any election, voters are shredded out of the Kashmiri society by saying, “Yim vote traaye yimav Gujir Shikasladav (It was only these Gujjar paupers, who voted)”. And if this isn’t racism, then racism is an imaginary word, and nothing like racism has ever existed! There is neither any point nor any sense in making such remarks, except for being abusive, derogatory and outrageously racist. When such remarks are made about someone, it even turns the scene into a physical fight, proving that such remarks aren’t taken lightly by anyone, and they actually hurt the sentiments and sensibilities of people.

As a child whenever I used to play with dirt or come back to home after playing all day long, and there would be dirt all around my face, I’d be rebuked by saying, “Yih kya chath paanas Bihaaer shakal karmuch? (Why have you made yourself look like a Bihari?)”. And when someone has to make a mockery of some other black complexioned person, they’ll say, “Suhaa chi yuhaye Bihora hyoo (He looks like a Bihari)”. This is pure racism, they will call you a Bihaaer (Bihari) or Bangaael (Bengali) if you are not clean and tidy, and compare you with Bihari or Bengali, if you are dark coloured. Being dark complexioned doesn’t mean being dirty or untidy! We should get over this stereotype where we associate dark colour with filth and dirt. This is disgusting, and highly sickening attitude. I once went to a photo studio, to get some passport size photographs, and after clicking the picture, he had it photoshopped and had made me look much, much fairer than I am. And when I saw the photographs, I exclaimed, “Who is this guy?!”. The photographer didn’t pay any attention to what I said as he was busy photoshopping other pics. So I left the studio, trying to figure out the guy in the photograph. This obsession touches its height when someone is about to marry a dark complexioned person, and people will make a remark that, “Aem haa chi kormut kaalas sit! (He/She’s marrying a black person)”.

Phrases like, “Asli chukh Kraal (Your traits are those of potters)”, “Yih chukhaa greest khaslat haawaan? (Are you trying to show your traits of being a farmer?)“, “Yiman Naan-Gaaran chi aasaan yichhuee khaslat (This is the real character of non-farmers)”, reflect the deep-rooted divisions in our society, wherein we insult one or the other class of people and society. Casteism, racism and societal stereotypes in Kashmiri society are highly disguised in nature, but are deeply rooted.

It’s not just in Kashmir where this obsession with fair colour is found. Even in India, there are people who are infatuated with the same. I’m currently studying in Hyderabad, and there are students from all over the India. Once my classmate asked me, “Most of Kashmiris are Goray Chittay (much fairer), why aren’t you as fair as other Kashmiri people?”. I had no answer to his question, so I joked, “I take Melanin (pigment primarily responsible for skin colour) tablets, and that’s why I’m not as fair as they are”. There is another classmate, who would come to me, bring his arm closer to mine, I being a Kashmiri (presumed to be fair skinned), compare the colour of both and then tell me, “See, I’ve become fairer than you!”. And I’d always be like, “Congratulations!”. He would come to me and show me any of his recent picture, where he looks much fairer(than exactly he is), and would tell me, “Look, how fair I’m looking in this pic.” and I would tell him, “No, man. That’s not you!”. At times he would start explaining that, he’s actually much fairer than he looks now, it’s because of this South Indian sun that he’s become so dark, even when I never ask for such an explanation.

We need to get beyond these colour stereotypes, societal divisions and racism. People should stop dreaming of becoming fairer. Actually it makes me laugh at myself and other human beings when I see them desperate to become fair skinned, and that they would go to any extent to become one. There’s nothing good about being fair skinned, and there’s nothing bad about being dark skinned. We need to stop using phrases which disparage dark-skinned people, or people from any other race or part of our society. If at all we are serious about equality, we need to shun them for once and all. We also need to change our perception towards skin colour. Skin colour is all about skin colour, nothing more, not at all!

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