Matrimonial website Shaadi.com has removed a skin colour filter option that pandered to racial stereotypes, departing from the usual Indian practice of avoiding taking sides on controversial matters.
In a society obsessed with fair skin, consumers could use the filter not only to register the skin colour of the man or woman being advertised for marriage but also search the potential bride or groom by colour of skin.
The online matchmaker removed the skin filter after a petition by a woman in Dallas who, along with another user, questioned the filter in light of global anti-racism protests.
Meghan Nagpal and Hetal Lakhani, two Indian women who were using the website to find potential partners, discussed the complexion filter on a Facebook group.
Nagpal even emailed the site but was told by a representative that this was a filter that most Indian parents asked for, according to BBC. That’s when they started a petition that received 1,500 signatures in just 14 hours.
When users joined the site, they were asked to select how dark or light their own skin was under a ‘skin tone’ option. They could further search for potential partners on the basis of the skin tone they had selected.
Shaadi.com referred to the skin tone option as a “product debris we missed removing" and that “it was not serving any purpose as the filter didn’t work and the searches would show matches of all skin tones", according to the BBC report.
A spokesperson for the matrimonial site said: “There is no skin colour filter on Shaadi.com, or any of its platforms. What you are referring to is...product debris left over in one of our advanced search pages on the website, which is non-functional and barely used and, hence, it did not come to our attention. When a user highlighted this, we were thankful and had the remnants removed immediately. We do not discriminate based on skin colour and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world."
Anti-racism protests have erupted across the world after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the US this May, and online outrage has gown under umbrella hashtag ‘#BlackLivesMatter’.
Surinder Singh Jodhka, a professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said while this is one way for a brand to appear progressive, it also helps society become aware of these questions of inequality.
To be sure, Shaadi.com is not the only brand keen to appear conscious and sensitive about the colour debate. Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson said it was discontinuing its Neutrogena Fine Fairness line, which is available in Asia, and its Clear Fairness by Clean & Clear line, which is available in India, both of which feature products that lighten skin tones.
Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and L’Oréal have also come under the scanner for continuing to sell skin-whitening products under brands such as Garnier and Olay.
With an ‘India Fairness Cream and Bleach Market Overview 2018-23’ report by research resource Research and Markets estimating the women’s fairness cream market to be worth ₹5,000 crore by 2023, experts are wary of seeing this as a sign of concrete change.
“A lot of this is the result of active social media trolling and the brand realising the tremendous PR the sacrifice of a button can make," Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Mogae Media, a Mumbai-based marketing and communication agency, said. Goyal termed the Shaadi.com move as moment marketing —when a brand rides a wave and maximizes the opportunity arising out of a topical conversation.