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In Mumbai, A Woman Poisoned Her Family Due To Continuous Harassment In The Name Of Her Dark Complexion And Cooking (representational image)

Pradnya Survase, a 23-year-old woman from Khalapur, Maharashtra, was arrested for the murder of five people including children. The incident happened on 18 June, 2018 when Survase poisoned the food that was served at a feast. Five of the guests died and around 90 were hospitalised. Survase told the police that her intention was to murder her husband and in-laws for constant harassment in the name of her dark complexion and cooking. She was arrested on 23 June.

The feast was organised by a relative of Survase. She mixed poison used to kill snakes in the dal (lentils) that was served there.

Senior inspector of Khalapur police station, Vishwajeet Kaingade told Hindustan Times that Survase said that she was harassed regularly during her two-year-old marriage, for her dark complexion. She was also told that she could not cook well.

‘She has named her mother in-law, Sindhu Survase, husband Suresh Govind Survase, sisters in-law Ujwala Pawar and Jyoti Ashok Kadam, and her mother in-law’s sister Sarita Mane and Sarita’s husband, Subhash Mane for the alleged torture,’ the Hindustan Times reported the officer as saying.

The five people, who died because of the poisonous food include four children and an elderly man.

India is one of the leading markets for skin whitening products and the marketing of these have been questioned several times by activists and feminists. Dark complexion is considered ‘ugly’ and a large section of Indian society exerts pressure especially on women, to be light skinned to fit beauty standards.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) had in 2014, made it clear that no advertisements for fairness products ‘should communicate any discrimination or reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour.’ This mandate is hardly observed even today.

According to ASCI, ‘advertising should not directly or implicitly show people with darker skin, in a way that is widely seen as, unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned. These ads should not portray people with darker skin in a way that is widely seen as a disadvantage of any kind, or inferior, or unsuccessful in any aspect of life, particularly in relation to being attractive to the opposite sex, matrimony, job placement, promotions and other prospects.’

In India, discrimination against skin colour cites different reasons in different contexts. Within the context of India’s caste system, being dark skinned in often considered to be a quality of being a Dalit or a lower caste. People are discriminated on the basis of skin colour in North India where dark complexion is considered to be a sign of being from South India.

In marriages and heterosexual relationships, India still follows the sexist notion that cooking is the responsibility of the female spouse. Women are evaluated on the basis of their cooking skills and are harassed, much like in the case of Survase, in many Indian households.

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