Struggling to find local suitors, these women get married in northern parts of the country, but continue to be treated unfairly, finds study
“Colourism" is widespread in Indian marriages. A study finds a trend of dark-skinned women in eastern parts finding suitors from northern India when they struggle to find them locally. But the curse of colourism stays with them even after marriage, the study finds.
The findings, by Reena Kukreja of Queens University, Canada, are based on a survey of 57 villages across four states. Two of these are in the north—Haryana and Rajasthan—where skewed sex ratios make it difficult for men to find brides. The other two are in the east—Odisha and West Bengal—which send brides to the northern states. Over a hundred women were interviewed along with their husbands and family members.
Half of the women experienced colour-based discrimination in married life. Being insulted as ‘kala kauwa’ (black crow) or ‘kali nagin’ (black snake) was traumatic and stressful for them. Sharing a common space became hard as their new communities linked dark skin with lower castes and uncleanliness and impurity. One bride said her sisters-in-law refused to eat with her. Some reported being excluded from family occasions, and of not being allowed to cook for these events.
Dark skin is also associated in northern India with poor people from Bihar, who migrate there to work in agriculture or the informal economy, and are seen as uncouth or primitive. Women reported being called ‘Biharan’, a reference to women from the state that is often used as a slur.
This colourism also extends to children from these marriages. One Jat person talked about how their community is traditionally seen as tall and muscular, while the children born out of such marriages are shorter in height, raising fear of these supposed caste attributes being diluted. One respondent shockingly remarked that these children were a ‘lower grade of people’.