Colorism Is A Problem In India. But Who Cares? : Colorism under Colonial Rule.

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

After giving an insight on the history of Colorism in Ancient India in my previous article (click here to read), I want to focus more on what is the actual root of color-based discrimination in India. Based on my previous article, in ancient India discrimination on the basis of color was nowhere to be seen. Discrimination was mostly based on occupations, but this all changed when India became a British colony for over 200 years. Colonial rule left Indians with the ideology of "white is powerful." And this idea has survived to this day.

India has been invaded and ruled by various parts of the world - Muslim invaders including the Turks, Afghans, and Mughals, the Portuguese, and the British. Muslims first invaded India in 1175 A.D, first forming the Delhi Sultanate, which lasted for 300 years and five different dynasties. Then came the Mughals, who ruled for 214 years. However, there is no evidence in historical texts that Muslims discriminated against Indians the basis of their color. The discrimination in this era against Indians was on the basis of religion. However, keep in mind that the Muslim rulers came from the Arabic and Persian Belt, were fairer in color than most Indians, and held a higher status during their rule¹.

After the Muslim rule came the colonial rule of Britishers, who began preaching the idea of being a "superior" and "intelligent" race whose duty was to rule over the "inferior" and "black-colored" race (Indians) who were more similar to animals than humans. Britishers were not in India to loot and go away, instead they came to stay and loot her unlike the Muslim Mughals who made India their home and wanted to unite her. Britishers neither made India their home nor wanted to unite India. They were cruel, arrogant, and narcissistic. During their rule, they restricted Indians on entry to clubs, restaurants, and institutions, putting up signs such as "Indians and dogs not allowed." Some clubs gave entry to lighter-skin Indians but not darker skin Indians. When it came to jobs, promotions, etc, Britishers once again gave preference to lighter-skin individuals. Even though Indians were not treated equally (example, given menial jobs no matter what their color) to the Britishers, lighter-skin people were preferred over "black," and therefore, made allies with the British. Another such instance of segregation under British rule was when the East India Company (operated in the 16th century) named their Fort St. George settlement "White Town'' and their Indian settlement as "Black Town²."

Therefore, it is clear when India was a British colony, discrimination on the basis of color was prominent. However, this discrimination did not end after independence. Because Britishers forced superiority and favored light-skinned individuals over "black" skin, fairer skin became desirable, pretty, and most of all a sign of superiority or high socio-economic status. Whereas darker color was related to low socioeconomic status and adverse moral and behavioral qualities. These distinctions are so deeply rooted in our society now that discrimination on the basis of color is normalized, and many of us (including me) did not even know colorism was a thing! With so many fairness creams being endorsed by Bollywood celebrities, our society is still trapped in the net laid by our colonizers. I will discuss how this prejudice has managed to live so many years after independence in a country full of brown/black skin people in my next article in this series!

Do share your thoughts with me in the comments!

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[1] Neha Mishra, 2015. India and Colorism: The Finer Nuances.

[2] Muhammad Rakibul Islam, 2019. Did colourism always exist in the Indian subcontinent?

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