Till 12th century, deities were depicted in black stones
Till 12th century, deities were depicted in black stones

The entire world is anguished over the mindless killing of an Afro-American by a racist white cop. India is no exception. The 'liberals' in India are condemning the rabid colour consciousness of America and the western world in general, conveniently forgetting that the Indians also tacitly believe in colourism and don't approve of the colour black. The question is, what makes us dislike black whereas ancient India celebrated black so much so that the Sanskrit poet Bhavbhuti wrote Shyamalam Mangalam, Shwetam Amangalam (the black is auspicious and the white is inauspicious) in Uttarramcharitam.

All our deities till 12th century were made of black stones. The primordial sign of Shakti in the form of goddess Kali is self-evident. Sanskrit poet Jaydev delineated Radha as Shyamalam, chandra-virhit raatri sadrisham (as dark as the night sans moon!) in his Geet Govindam. All the agamas (Prakrit scriptures) of Jainism depicted Mahavira as shyamal varni (darkish toned) and pitakas (Pali scriptures of Buddhism) described Gautam Buddha as Tirudharnam (a dark complexioned person). It's interesting to note that in Valmiki Ramayan and Tamil Ramayan, Ravan was described as fair-skinned and Ram as dark-skinned: Dashananam gaur varnita iti Ram shyamalam (Dashanana or Ravana was fair-skinned and Ram was dark-skinned). Our ancient literature and scriptures are full of references to the positive side of colour black and the negative facet of white.

Yet, we suffer from A Black Man's Prejudicial Pseudo Complex, to quote Caribbean Nobel laureate in literature Derek Walcott.

Yes, this is A Black Man's Prejudicial Pseudo Complex we all suffer from. Nearly 200 years of British rule made us hate whatever we had. Colonialism causes a gradual erosion of the past history and corrosion of heritage. The same happened to the Algerian and North African Muslims colonised by the French. Algeria-born French existentialist Albert Camus enumerated upon this phenomenon in his seminal essay, Colour Conflicts of Colonised People. He wrote, ' Complexion complex is natural among the people colonised by a race that has a different skin colour.' French and Brits were whites and they ruled over blacks and browns respectively. Centuries of colonisation made the colonised people suffer from colour complex. We began to emulate our colonial masters in all respects. “Colour cannot be changed, but it can be vilified,” cryptically stated V S Naipaul.

Indians couldn't change their intrinsic skin colour but they could vilify their own colour in a bid to be on a par with the white English people!

Thus began the systematic vilification and psychological self-loathing of black or brown by the colonised Indians because the Brits would often scornfully call Indians, the native browns.

An enslaved race loses its ethno-cultural moorings and sense of pride. We started labouring under the misconception that we were treated like doormats because of our skin colour. This made us condemn black and brown.

Even before that, Mughals of Mongoloid stock made Indians feel inferior by scoffing at the skin colour of Indians.

Amir Khusro, son of a Central Asian Muslim father and a Rajput mother, rather disdainfully wrote, Sayha, faam-e-Iblees ast in Persian (black is the colour of Satan). Jahangir would always appoint white-skinned upper-crust Hindus in his court. This was criticised by Abul Fazal in Aine-e-Akbari. Infuriated, Jahangir got Abul Fazal killed near Manmad in Maharashtra.

It must be mentioned that the very word Hindustan (it has nothing to do with Hinduism) was given by the Central Asian invaders who called India, A country of blacks because Hindu connotes black in Persian. The great Persian mystic Hakim Sanai wrote, ' Yaan mughzim, ya dahar-e-rang-e-Hindu, mulk-e-muqaddas nushudam ' (this great land, this place of black people is indeed a sacred land). He said this of India when he came to Varanasi. But the great mystic's contempt for complexion cannot be carpeted under.

In fine, more than a millennium of foreign rule made the Indians averse to melanin and relegated us to a pigmentation-oriented, confused race.

The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.

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