The Miss America beauty pageant doesn't really get much coverage here in India, but the winner this year has changed that. Nina Davuluri, a young woman of Indian descent, won the title this year causing a negative reaction by bigots on Twitter who called her a "terrorist" and wondered how an "Arab" like her could be crowned as Miss America, hardly a week after 9/11.
Of course, it's prudent to ignore semi-literate racists who are unaware that India not an Arab country and is mostly a victim of terrorism instead of perpetrating it. The television host Stephen Colbert found it hard to keep a straight face as he wondered how a bikini clad Nina Davuluri could even be considered a Muslim extremist in the first place.
There was a section of the Indian media that expressed outrage over the "American reaction" to the first Indian-American Miss America, but they were politely reminded that most of India is equally racist and that a person with Nina Davuluri's skin tone might not even pass the first round in a Miss India pageant. This is after all a country where advertisements for fairness creams are commonplace. The Indian film industry, with the exception of a few actresses like Nandita Das and Seema Biswas who have acted in art films, has possibly never featured a dark skinned actress in its 100 year history. Ironically, the outrage over the American reaction to the Miss America winner has turned the mirror on Indian society itself. Will we continue to see only fair-skinned actresses on screen or is it time for change?
Text: Shivankar Jay