August 20, 2013

Who Is The Real Enemy?

By Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder & Director of Women of Worth

Photo Credit: Zippora Madhukar Photography
Have you ever wondered where skin colour bias originated from? I have. And frankly speaking, there is no simple answer. Skin colour bias is so much a part of our culture that if we tracked it down to see the real enemies it would possibly point to all of us, our families, our extended families, our society, our ancestors etc. 

We are all guilty of either propagating or tolerating this age-old bias. Most people are unaware that such a bias can actually affect people in a deep way.

Photo Credit: Zippora Madhukar Photography
A campaign like, ’Dark is Beautiful’ (by Women of Worth) has as its core mission the task of exposing the issue, educating people on its effects on society and encouraging those who have experienced trauma because of skin colour bias to regain their confidence and self-worth.

Since our petition on to ‘take down’ Emami’s discriminatory “Fair and Handsome” ad, many have asked us the question: Why not other brands? Why only Emami? Why only Shah Rukh Khan?” Are they the only ones who are guilty of ‘unfair advertising’ or responsible for skin colour discrimination? 

Not at all! If we had chosen some other brand’s ad, we still would have faced this question. Change has to begin somewhere. 

The word ‘petition’ actually means ‘request’ or ‘appeal’. By posting a petition we are actually requesting Emami and Shah Rukh Khan to ‘lead the change’. 

Design Credit: 6PM Designs
Several well-wishers of Mr. Khan are worried whether the campaign is aimed against him. I wish to reiterate that the campaign is against skin colour bias and not against Mr. Khan as any individual. 

We do want to see Emami’s discriminatory ad taken down. We do want King Khan to stop endorsing products that promote skin colour discrimination. Those are our requests.

People often argue that products are manufactured to meet a demand among the masses. The demand-and-supply model cannot be an excuse to override responsible business ethics. An issue as serious as skin-colour discrimination cannot be ignored. A healthy society will be on the look out to sort out its discriminatory practices. 

Today we are proud of having moved ahead in our perceptions of dowry, our society’s preference for male offspring and various other practices that reflect gender bias or discrimination. Why have we ignored skin-colour bias? The demand-and-supply model cannot be the easy answer to playing on the existing bias or insecurities of an entire group of people. We are and should be more responsible than that!

Our Journey
The Dark is Beautiful campaign seeks to address this complex issue in various ways. 

At the launch of the campaign in 2009, we hosted contests in painting, photography, short stories and poetry on the theme “Dark is Beautiful’ to give people a chance to express their views through art. We held a Dark is Beautiful Concert, Book Reading, and Art Gallery in collaboration with British Council, Chennai premises.

DisB Launch Concert Emceed by VJ Paloma Rao
Our media literacy module spreads awareness among school and college students that ‘beauty is beyond colour.'

Media Literacy Workshops for High School Students
Our blog series called SURVIVING DISCRIMINATION showcases stories of men and women who have overcome the discriminating effects of skin colour bias or of those who are still trying to figure a way out.

Our social media platforms gives people a place to share their thoughts on the issue vent, find support and feel understood.
In March 2012, the campaign organized our first flash mob at Elliot’s Beach, Chennai and released a TVC featuring one of our brand ambassadors Anu Hasan. The event was chaired by Mr. Pratip Philip, Inspector General, Chennai Police. The flash mob’s slogan was “Why this colour-veri?” chosen after the famous Tamil hit song “Why this Kola-veri di?”

Anu Hasan was the first celebrity endorsement the campaign received 
Why this Colour Veri? Expression Board
Over the past two years, celebrities like Anu Hasan, Nandita Das, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Vishaka Singh have lent their support. Their participation in the campaign has gained us visibility and media attention.

Nandita Das challenges skin colour bias
The petition, as you can see, is one among the various initiatives of the campaign. We are well aware that skin colour bias is so deep rooted in our society and that it has to be seen and addressed from different angles. 

Media Literacy and Responsible Advertising
However, having said all of the above we acknowledge the need for responsible advertising which, whether we like it or not, plays a huge role in shaping and influencing the way people think and act. If this were not true why would brands want to use stars to sell their products? 

From rural India to the most educated in urban India people look up to icons like Shah Rukh Khan.  We celebrate and esteem stars as role models. Therefore, it is only right that we require them to exercise a certain sense of responsibility towards their countrymen. They are not just entertainers. They are prominent voices in the nation that people from all walks of life stop and listen to. Our petition is simply this: Please say ‘no’ to skin colour bias!

Show us that you care!

Kavitha is passionate about campaigning for issues concerning women, children and the underprivileged. She finds great fulfillment in helping women realize their dreams and live up to their full potential. She founded Women of Worth (WOW) with a vision to empower, train and motivate women to 'Be the Best They can Be'. She is always looking for opportunities to create avenues for change that will make the world a better place for women.


  1. The first time i saw an advertisement on television about this and felt WOW!!!! Finally we actually have people taking up this issue which has troubled women & men since ages. Would like to wish all my luck and best wishes to Ms Kavitha Emmanue for truly being an inspiration...

  2. I don't get it, seriously.

    It should not say "DARK IS BEAUTIFUL" in my opinion.

    It should say "BEAUTY IS REDUNDANT".

    It's not about complexion: it's about beauty in itself. Showcase the athletes (who are probably not as pretty). Why are we concentrating on film-stars, who are dark and beautifuld?

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  4. Being a dark south indian myself, i deeply appreciate intentions of the people behind this campaign.
    However, I think you guys can do much more by giving out accurate reasons to understand this bias and figure out the right way to tackle this issue.
    For eg
    1) You have not gotten to the bottom of how this bias came into being.. simply saying we are all responsible is not gonna cut it
    2) Just because you say dark is beautiful in campaigns, no one is gonna start preferring dark skinned partners. Only thing we get is political correctness and superficiality from people who empathise
    3) today dark is beautiful, so why not fat is beautiful, why not asymmetric is beautiful, or less-neoteny is beautiful? or rough hair is beautiful? or big nose is beautiful or big lips are beautiful?

    There are answers to these questions..even with basic research like that of wikipedia. You can see references Harvard studies which indicate a preference for fair skin even in remote villages where no one has seen white people or no invasion or brainwashing has done.
    Anthropologists say white skin is a neotenous triat..and its embedded in Evolutionary psychology of humans ..or instincts.

    The campaigners really have to give proper reasons for the people to change their mind...and not appeal to their mercy or political correctness.

    I understand if you dont want my comment to appear in this post

  5. I love this campaign! I'm a makeup artist and the majority of my clients are Indian or South Asian decent and it kills me when I hear these words "I try to stay out of the sun, I'M DARK ENOUGH!" Not to mention seeing women try so hard to make themselves appear a shade or two lighter and taking away from their natural beauty!

    Myself, I'm African American with chocolate skin that grew up with the same problems. To this day I have a grandmother that only speaks to me because my daughter is fair. My brother has always made fun of me calling me 'blackie' because he was fair. The only thing to shut him up was replying "yup, just like your mother".

    Truth be told, I gave a small thank you prayer when I saw my daughter was light. Knowing she wouldn't have to face problems I did was a relief. What's funny is how a new generation can make you see how very twisted thinking can be. I actually have to monitor my daughters makeup because she'll try to make herself darker...would you believe it?!

    We've all faced these stigmas in our respective cultures, but bringing them to light is the first step in the right direction. I applaud you and will continue to be supportive of Dark IS Beautiful.

  6. Hey please check out my blog post on Dark is Beautiful:

  7. Hey, please check out my blog post about Dark is Beautiful!!!

  8. "Divide and Rule" or "Divide and Earn". Emami and Shahrukh is earning in the name of color division in the society. Actually this type of earning is unethical and UNFAIR.
    Companies work on SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. Charity alone means Social Responsibility ??

  9. "stay unfair stay beautiful" when marco polo once visited southern most part of India what we call today tamil nadu, said it is one of the most richest and splendid province on earth! and its people loved dark colour , they love it so much that they would apply sesame oil to young new born children to make them appear more darker. Sad that todays tamil nadu is just opposite! importing foreign models and fair skinned girls to don the local heroes of the movie industry!