I Do Not Have a White Name

This article was originally published in Farrago magazine on 24 September, 2018.

My name is Dilpreet.

DIL-PRE-EAT.

It only needs to be broken into three parts in case someone just can’t fathom that it’s a real name. DIL means heart, and so my name is in 70 per cent of all Bollywood titles. While Dilpreet’s literal meaning is “someone who is good hearted”, I sound cannibalistic when I break it down in English.

Not so good hearted now, hmm?

Of course, I have often been called other names like DIL-TER-TREAT, DIL-PER-PRIEST and DEEP-YEAST.

Deepyeast? Who do you think I am—a fake Instagram account?

I don’t expect everyone to get it without asking at least thrice.

If my math is correct, less than 0.39 per cent of people in the world are likely to have the same name. How did I reach this conclusion, you ask? I googled the percentage of Sikhs in the world (smart, I know). I am super atheistic but one thing I love about being a Sikh is that our names are gender neutral. I couldn’t do another search on males/females/others and reach a number. Trust me, I failed Class 8 Math.

Anyway, I moved to Melbourne around a year ago and most of my social interactions involve repeating my name at coffee shops, events, parties and interviews.

I like cafes that believe in giving people a number. Aren’t we just numbers anyway? Mere data for greedy corporations, an ID number for institutions or the “going” kean beans to causes promoted on Facebook.

Okay, that was deep. For my standards, at least.

To my own surprise, it never really bothered me. I thought I would get sick of repeating my name until people got it, but I ended up getting used to it.

Until that one party I went to solely for free beer.

As I wandered around the bar, pretending to understand art and sipping on tap beer, someone tapped (hashtag pun) on my shoulder.

A thin white man wearing half framed glasses, black jeans and a light yellow t-shirt that needed some serious ironing was staring at me. “Umm, hi?” I said with a slight frown. Surely, I didn’t know him. I mean, I had just started drinking. There was still some time left before I would start saying goodbye to memory.

Turned out he studied at UniMelb too, and knew of me from one of the student groups. Good! My almost non-existent PR skills were not so bad after all.

We exchanged the usual “Oh hi,” “How you going?” “Cool art huh?” and so on.

“So, how do you pronounce your name? I feel like I am not saying it right,” he said.

Well, he was rolling the R a bit too much and wasn’t stretching the -eet at the end too well, but it wasn’t problematic. It sounded like my name.

“Maybe don’t roll the R too much”, I suggested.

“Right. Isn’t repeating your name all the time annoying? Don’t you have a white name?”

The beer must have gone straight out of my nostrils.

“My what name?” I asked while still recovering.

“I mean, you know, how people from different cultures and countries have a shortened name? A white name so it’s easier for people to understand,” he actually explained. Thanks, buddy.

I told him I didn’t have a white name—probably never will. He looked as if he had offended me, but he actually got me thinking.

I didn’t grow up in a white-dominated country, so maybe I’ll never know the struggle it can come with. My cousins who grew up abroad would often tell me that it can get a bit difficult, but I can’t imagine myself in their shoes. So when I hear things like these, I think about them obsessively.

Does having a shorter name actually help? What comfort does that give to people that they couldn’t have with a longer name?

I mean if people can say Czechoslovakia, they can surely say Dilpreet.

My very close friends back in India call me Dil or Dillo. Shorter versions of my name have a special place in my heart. My name wasn’t shortened to “fit in”—it was altered by people who were drunk at 4am and wanted to tell me they loved me.

So, no, I do not have a white name. I wish other non-white people didn’t either. Our names are beautiful. They speak of our roots, cultures, homes we so dearly love.

I would rather repeat my name thrice than cut it to make someone else more comfortable.

If you don’t get it—you should listen.

It’s D-I-L…

Fair Enough? The Desire for Lighter Skin

Graphics: Ayonti Mahreen Haq

For more than 40 years, Curry Corner, a tiny store in Melbourne’s CBD that specialises in Indian imports, has been selling spices and lentils. But what catches the eye almost instantly is the large collection of skin-whitening products in the front right corner of the shop. From a skin bleaching cream for “instant golden glow” by Fem to a whitening cream called “Fair & Lovely”, there is a chemical formula available for every part of the body. Yes, even the privates.

I looked at myself in the tiny mirror hanging on the wall and thought, “I love this chocolate flavour on me.” But I couldn’t resist reading the taglines on the products.

Growing up with a darker skin tone, I was often told lightening my skin would accentuate my features. Some comments were even more overt, simply telling me I would look prettier with light skin.

Before boarding my flight to Melbourne from Delhi last year, I stopped at the airport drugstore to buy myself lotion for the journey. Without knowing what I wanted, the shopkeeper pulled out a Nivea Skin Whitening Lotion which also offered a Nivea Underarm Whitening Deodorant for free.

Now, back in Curry Corner in Melbourne, the retail assistant watches me inspecting the cream. “Everybody buys them,” the assistant says encouragingly.

According to intelligence firm Global Industry Analysts, the market for such products is expected to reach US$31 billion by 2024. India alone has a $200 million strong skin-whitening product industry.

Cherry, a pharmacist at Priceline on Bourke Street, says light skin is considered “good” in Asian culture. “La Roche Posay does have a skin whitening cream, but we’re out of stock at the moment. I think the target audience is mainly Asian women in Australia. It could be cultural issue or personal preference, it’s hard to say,” says Cherry while putting other La Roche Posay products on the shelf.

But not everyone agrees that skin whitening products make huge sales. Sales assistant Narender Singh at ‘India at Home’ in Box Hill is one of them. “These products [pointing towards a shelf with skin lightening bleach creams] have been sitting here for a year, nobody is buying them.”

“Why?”

“Maybe people are getting over white skin,” Narender says, laughing. “Although, Ayurveda (natural) products for skin have been very popular, recently.”

“Do they promise fairer skin?”

After a long pause, Narender, seemingly surprised with himself says, “Well, yes.”

Even DIY skin care remedies, made famous by Instagram beauty gurus and social media influencers, reek of a strong desire to have a lighter skin tone. Articles like ‘How to whiten skin from kitchen supplies’ are wildly popular.

Lightening one’s skin is perceived to come with increased privileges and higher social standing. Hundreds of years of colonisation of People of Colour has led white skin to be linked to leadership or supremacy. Melbourne based spoken word artist, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, believes that white has always been linked to purity, and that is a problem. “I think purity is a big theme in South Asian religious ideologies and culture has dictated that pure = white = clean, and impure = black/ darkness = dirty. Even if you ask young kids to draw “God” they will immediately draw an old white man in the sky/clouds. Why is God a white man?”

The desire to have lighter skin is normalised and sold everyday. From billboards to TV advertisements, we are bombarded with “revolutionary techniques” for skin whitening, often featuring a scientist in a white coat, mixing chemicals in a sterile laboratory.

In 2017, Dove received backlash after posting an ad that showed a black woman removing her shirt and being replaced with a white woman. The same year, an advertisement for skin-whitening pills with the slogan “white makes you win” made headlines. In the ad, Thai model Cris Horwang’s skin gradually darkens as she says: “If I stop taking care of myself, everything I have worked for, the whiteness I have invested in, may be lost.”

Racism in ads for skin whitening products is not new. Australia’s share of such ads dates back to early 1900s. The Nulla-Nulla soap ad with slogan “Australia’s White Hope, The Best Household Soap”, shows a seemingly black woman with word “DIRT” wrapped around her neck. A white hand can be seen hitting the woman on the head.

Wiradjuri author Kathleen Jackson writes that the most literal reading of Nulla-Nulla advertisement would be that it is a particularly good soap because it can clean even the dirtiest object perceived, which in this case is a black woman.

Some countries have taken steps to discourage skin whitening and the harmful advertising practices associated with it. Last year, Ghana banned the use of hydroquinone, the primary chemical found in skin whitening bleaches and creams. Ghana is one of the three African countries to regulate skin whitening products, along with Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa. The chemical is also banned in Europe, but Australia has taken no such steps.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) prohibited cosmetic brands from communicating any discrimination based on skin colour through advertising in 2014. Given how widespread the advertising for fairness and skin lightening products is and the concerns of different stakeholders in society, ASCI took the decision seeking industry and public feedback.

One of the main guidelines reads, “These ads should not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour. Specifically, advertising should not directly or implicitly show people with darker skin, in a way which is widely seen as unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned.”

Individuals are also working to change the culture of skin whitening. Indian activist Kavitha Emmanuel initiated a campaign in 2009 called Dark is Beautiful. It seeks to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin colour bias and celebrate the beauty and diversity of all skin tones. Kavitha says that even though banning these products might help, it is not the final solution.

“We need to change the mindset. If people won’t be able buy skin whitening products, they will experiment at home, the DIY way. As long as they believe whiter skin to be better skin, such bans can’t stop them. What we need to do is change the thinking, that’s the real fight,” says Kavitha, over the phone.

Almost a hundred years later and despite several awareness campaigns, the skin whitening industry continues to grow. Businesses avoid social responsibility by claiming they are simply exercising their right to do business. But in the process, they push a racist and anti-feminist system that forces one to confirm to Eurocentric standards of beauty.

After analysing all the products himself, sales assistant Narendar says, “They shouldn’t sell these anymore. It’s not a nice thing to do, is it?”

 

What This School for Deaf and Blind Students Can Make You Do!

“Make children service providers, not service seekers.”

Patiala School for Deaf and Blind (India), situated in the Royal city of Patiala in Punjab and established in 1967, is the third deaf-blind school in India for the children with multiple disability of visual and hearing impairment.

A handicap can’t render life impossible. This school aims at transforming children into active service providers, not dependent service seekers! The moment  I entered the school, one thing was clear;nobody’s pity is welcome inside. The school is for the brave and those who need love and support, not sympathies.
 

Filled with 220+ students and 35+ teachers, the school exudes positivity. The school is divided into three sections as The school for the Deaf, The school for the Blind and The school for the Deaf and Blind.

The institution supports 150 deaf students, 70 blind students and around 3-4 deaf and blind students.

Another thing I learned about the school is that it gets no governmental support and runs entirely on donations. Considering the numerous facilities and services provided by the school to its students, it is nothing short of being miraculous.

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The school follows the Punjab Board of Education and teaches up to standard 12. It is a co-ed school and is residential in nature. It is considered to be one of the best schools of its kind in the country.

The students are provided with three meals and two refreshments a day. Classes take place from 8.30 to 1.45 and resume from 2.30 to 3.30 in the evening. The menu comprises of healthy food and ration is also bought from the moneydonated. If one wishes to provide the students a meal, he/she is also requested to serve the food.

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Saw this little munchkin!

When a deaf/blind or deaf blind student is admitted to the school, teachers and attendants take the classes teaching them basics.

Around 200 repeated exercises are practiced on a deaf student for one single letter.

They have specialized therapists who are aware of the potency of the ear and work accordingly.

The blind students have braille books, both in and out of syllabus, available to them and junior students have attendants who teach them how to walk and maintain. The school has special walking paths for the blind which makes them both comfortable and habitual of handling themselves in crowded places.

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Special walking path like dotted and lined textured for the blind.

Also, the grass patches differ. Some parts are rocky and some are smooth. It helps them define the road they are on and hence, makes them understand their walking style and body language.

There is a special library for the blind where they can come and read books of their own choice. The library is fundedby donors and is also supported by the Reliance Foundation. It is filled with novels, both fiction and non-fiction, also the syllabi notes. The students have a separate library class of forty five minutes.

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The books have braille language at the sides.The student can touch and read the title and content.
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What books in Braille look like from the inside.. 

The blind students can also play games. They have specially designed games like chess and snakes and ladder modeled for them and according to their needs. They are available to them in their classrooms and they can enjoy the fun time in between classes and also get separate game period.

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Snakes and Ladder. Notice the dice
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Chess board. The white part is sunk deep and the black part is slightly upwards.

The school has dedicated students who type for braille books. The school has computers that has a special software and supports the braille language.

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The deaf students have special skilled teachers allotted to them. The teachers are professionals and are mostly migrated. The school provides them accommodation as well. They teach the students sign language with the help of various exercises and personal guidance. They are also provided with different machines in order to understand the functioning of the ear.

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A chart that provides basic access to sign language

The teachers hardly write on the board and encourage the deaf students to write it on their own. It helps them gain confidence and gain better understanding of the content at hand. I saw most of the students helping themselves.

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The deaf students also have painting class where they draw and get those colors to paint! They have been allotted an immensely talented artist, who too is deaf,  to teach them. The classroom is full of various paintings and portraits and hand made cards. ‘

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Hand made cards

Apart from studies and sports, students indulge in a lot of extra curricular activities. They do stage, singing and also learn weaving. The weave their own dusters and also provide them to other schools. Weaving is voluntary and anyone who wishes to, can weave in the room provided separately for this purpose.  One can buy the products at 50 rupees from the school. I did and they are pretty cool!

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The weaving room

The deaf and blind students both have access to the computer and internet. They have special software downloaded to suit their needs. The machine is designed in such a manner that both the deaf as well as blind students can use the computer together at the same time. A scanner attached scans and transforms the content on the computer into a braille. The computers have a sound effective designs so the blind can hear the instructions and work to do the needful.

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The computer lab

Out of 220+ students, 180 put up in hostels. I learned that they have both summer and winter vacation of 40 days each but most of them report earlier as they feel more at home at the school.

The institution is doing a brilliant job with the kids and makes them believe in a better future. Every kid in the school is happy and takes on life and faces challenges with a head held high.

The school works entirely on donations and welcomes any voluntary work or service.

One can sponsor any child at 1500 rupees per month or 18000 rupees per year.

You can go on the link http://www.patialaschool.org/ and get to know more about their amazing work and high spirits.

At the end of my visit, I couldn’t resist sponsoring a child. Go ahead, make the choice on your own.

The smile on their faces gets a little wider.