Skimming Off The Cream

The bug has been sold hard in Jharkhand. Adivasi teenagers are boosting fairness cream sales, says ANAND ST DAS

Cover Story
Creamy liars An adivasi girl holds up a Fair & Lovely imitation cream
EVER SINCE Nilam Kachhap, an Oraon teenager from the remote tribal village of Kalamati, started attending college in Ranchi last year, she has been worried about her skin colour. Conscious that she is a few shades too dark, she has been slathering on whitening creams and fretting every time she glances at the mirror. She is not alone. Across Jharkhand young people from the indigenous tribes that belong to the pre-Dravidian proto-Australoid racial group, that once had no trouble with their dark skins, are now using creams like Fair & Lovely in the vain hope of growing lighter.
“The demand for our fairness products has been growing across Jharkhand, especially in the tribal-dominated districts. With more shops opening in remote areas and greater awareness, the demand will keep growing,” says S Shah, the Ranchi-based territory sales officer of Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), which owns the Fair & Lovely brand.
“It is only natural to want to look fair. For too long we’ve been perceived as uncivilised just because of our skin colour,” says Mukut Aind, a Munda from Dasmail near Khunti, who works as a chef at a Kolkata hotel. Mukut has been using Fair & Lovely cream for a few years now.
Tribal researchers say this longing to be rid of their archetypical skin is an indication of the tribals’ deep-seated urge to throw off the yoke of oppression and dispel the general perception that they are an exotic community.
“Dark-skinned tribals in India have been depicted as non-humans in ancient Hindu scriptures and have been called rakshasas (demons), vanaras (monkey) and nagas (snakes) in epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. So they have always wanted to look fair. Now they have a viable means to fulfill this desire,” says Dr Ram Dayal Munda, president of the Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal People of India.
As the tribal people’s isolation decreased in the last few decades, partially due to access to education, their awareness of the modern world’s manners too grew. The formation of a separate Jharkhand state as the homeland of the tribals in 2000 also increased their self-awareness. But it was television which made its way into remote hamlets for the first time during the Kargil War in 1999 that hastened the tribals’ headlong dive into the fairness flurry.
“The aggressive manner in which these products are advertised in the media is taking a toll on tribal youth. But after their dalliance with fairness products, these young people will realise that beauty is not skin deep,” says Kumari Basanti, head of the tribal languages department at Ranchi University.