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Ad implies skin bleaching cream will lead to acceptance of lesbians

One of the women applies the skin-bleaching cream to her partner
One of the women applies the skin-bleaching cream to her partnerPhoto: Screenshot

An Indian commercial for skin bleach that features a lesbian couple has garnered criticism from both conservatives and progressives, with the former up in arms over its inclusivity and the latter angered by the ad’s message that lighter skin will lead to LGBTQ equality.

The ad opens with two women preparing for a Karwa Chauth festival, a north Hindu tradition that celebrates marriage.

Related: India’s Supreme Court overturns sodomy ban in a landmark ruling

One of the women applies Dabur’s Fem skin bleaching cream to the other as they prepare for the festival, both having fasted. Later in the ad, the women attend the Karwa Chauth festival as a married couple.

Towards the end of the ad, the voiceover says, “When you glow like this, how can the world not change its mindset?” according to a translation from the Indian newspaper Deccan Herald. 

While some have praised the ad for featuring a lesbian couple in a country where LGBTQ people face discrimination and same-sex couples are not legally recognized, others criticized it for promoting the message that lighter skin is a more admirable quality.

“First, its so-called progressive story is nailed to an utterly regressive cultural rite like Karwa Chauth, where a wife goes without food and water all day because this is supposed to endow her husband with a long life,” wrote journalist Shuma Raha in the Decclan Herald. “What’s even more outrageous is that it makes the social acceptance of gay people and their right to marry contingent upon their having fair and blooming skin.”

Skin bleaching is a popular practice in India and is deeply rooted in colorism, the discriminatory idea that having lighter skin is more ideal and gives one more power and social status.

According to Vogue India, skin lightening products make up 50% of India’s skincare market, though there is a growing movement to fight this practice, which can be physically unhealthy.

“As long as [brands] continue to reinforce people’s insecurities with their messaging, this industry will keep growing,” said Kavitha Emmanuel, the founder of the “Dark Is Beautiful” campaign in India.

While many criticized Dabur’s ad for perpetuating colorism and using two women to celebrate a ritual many say is rooted in patriarchy, others were angry that its use of a same-sex couple disrespected Hindu rituals.

Narottam Mishra, the Home Minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh, demanded Dabur remove the ad and threatened legal action if the company refused.

“I consider this a serious matter,” Mishra said, according to CNN affilitate News18. “More so because such advertisements and clippings are made on the rituals of Hindu festivals only. They showed lesbians celebrating Karva Chauth and seeing each other through a sieve. In future, they will show two men [getting married through Hindu tradition]. This is objectionable.”

Dabur has since apologized for the ad, but to conservatives who were upset that a same-sex couple was shown participating in Karwa Cauth.

“Our intention is not to offend any beliefs, customs and traditions, religious or otherwise,” the company said in a statement. “If we have hurt the sentiments of any individual or group, it was unintentional, and we apologize.”

The company has already stopped running the ad since it was only meant to run through Karwa Cauth, which was this past Sunday. The company removed the ad from social media.

In 2018, India decriminalized homosexuality, but the country still does not have marriage equality.

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