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Not Just Tarun Vijay: The Casual Racism of Shah Rukh Khan & Others

Shah Rukh, Hrithik, John Abraham don’t really see what the fuss is all about because they’re fair themselves. 

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Screenshot from a Shah Rukh Khan commercial for ‘Fair And Handsome’ fairness cream for men. (Photo: Youtube)

It would be too easy to dismiss former BJP MP Tarun Vijay’s comments against South Indians as casual racism. Bollywood’s top stars, led by Shah Rukh Khan, continue to endorse skin-lightening creams with the nonchalance that comes with raking in an easy, extra buck.

It’s time to call out the hypocrisy of these men – Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham, Shahid Kapoor and Arjun Rampal, besides Shah Rukh Khan, of course – who pretend they’re selling hygiene. In fact, India’s top dream merchants are upholding, underlining and promoting the deep-seated contempt, distaste and aversion that fair Indians have for the dark-skinned.

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Birds of a Feather

Tarun Vijay is not alone. At least he said sorry for what he said on Al Jazeera, even though he didn’t believe his own apology. India’s Shameful Five listed above have no such compunction. All they’re interested in is the extra zero in their bank accounts. In any other country, they would be blacklisted. Only in India, that pun is lost on them.

Of course, Shah Rukh Khan has company. Two years ago, Giriraj Singh, the BJP MP from Nawada in Bihar, had pointed out that if Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian, she would certainly not be the queen bee of a major political party – that her “gori chamdi,” or fair skin, was responsible for her rise to the top.

Giriraj Singh apologised – just like Tarun Vijay – but neither were publicly censured by their party.

Hrithik Roshan would not be out of place in Sharad Yadav’s den. In 2015, in the Rajya Sabha, the self-proclaimed Lohia-ite and leader of the Janata Dal (United) began to declaim Kalidasa’s poetry, in general and the merits of “saanvli” (or dark-skinned) women in particular, as he made the shape of a woman with his hands.

The Rajya Sabha laughed, but the women parliamentarians weren’t amused. Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister and Yadav’s political colleague, refused to say a word. Presumably, he had other political fish to fry.

John Abraham, in fact, should hang out with Laxmikant Parsekar, the former BJP chief minister of Goa. Around the time Sharad Yadav was making his comments in the Rajya Sabha, Parsekar was telling Goa’s nurses that they should stay out of the sun in case they become “dark.”

Scratch the surface of Shahid Kapoor and Arjun Rampal. Both would throw up their hands in horror if you were to accuse them of being casteist and pro-‘khap panchayat.’ But the truth is that the celebration of whiteness is an acceptance that power is associated with fair skin.

Every Incredible India advertisement is only addressed to white people, as if they’re the only foreigners who want to come to India. Actually, after the assault of African students in and around Delhi and Bangalore and elsewhere, black students in India should look for more welcoming nations.

Atithi Devo Bhavah? For white people only.

What is the Fuss All About?

Tarun Vijay, actually, is a class apart as a politician. In the wake of the 2015 murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, in which the man was accused by sundry BJP goons of keeping beef in the refrigerator, Vijay wrote in the Indian Express that he commended Akhlaq’s daughter because she refused to “dissolve this incident [Dadri] into the bigger issue and make it political”. According to Vijay, the girl understood that the lynching was an accident and refused to turn it into a “political exercise” like the rest of the country was doing and condemning the BJP.

“Lynching a person merely on suspicion is absolutely wrong, the antithesis of all that India stands for and all that Hinduism preaches,” Vijay said, in the article. Question to ask Vijay is, would lynching be okay if the man actually had beef in his refrigerator?

The truth is that you can draw a direct connect between Tarun Vijay’s comments about the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq and his racist remarks against dark-skinned people – which he tried to defend by saying that “We worship Krishna, and she is black”.

Try as he might, Shah Rukh Khan cannot absolve himself of the same racism. Asked about his promotion of fairness creams in August 2014, Khan told the Economic Times: “A lot of my friends tell me, ‘Don’t do this; it’s wrong.’ I don’t think it’s wrong. I wouldn’t do it if it was wrong. It’s one of the highest selling creams. It’s not harmful and in no which way am I selling that fair is better than dusky or dusky is better than fair. I am not that kind of person.”

Bollywood comes together to sell whiteness as a desirable, superior concept to being ‘dark-skinned’. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="http://www.emirates247.com/entertainment/aishwarya-rai-salman-khan-srk-who-is-the-fairest-of-them-all-2013-03-19-1.499109">Emirates 24/7</a>)
Bollywood comes together to sell whiteness as a desirable, superior concept to being ‘dark-skinned’. (Photo Courtesy: Emirates 24/7)

But Khan is that kind of person. Actually, he is exactly like Tarun Vijay, who says one thing and doesn’t even bother to think through his comments. The criticism of Shah Rukh Khan endorsing fairness creams is irrelevant to Shah Rukh Khan because he’s fair-skinned himself and he wonders what the fuss is about.

That’s the tragedy of our lives – that a man as thoughtful as Shah Rukh Khan can be as thoughtless when it comes to condoning acts of racism. Fighting him, Tarun Vijay, Giriraj Singh and Sharad Yadav just got a lot tougher.

(The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi and writes on the overlap between domestic politics and foreign affairs. She can be reached @jomalhotra. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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