Tricia Rianne is a student from Singapore, who calls herself ‘gulab jamun’ on Twitter. But that’s not why everybody has been talking about her on the social networking sites.
The 19-year-old, who identifies herself as “Tamil-Hindustani-Malayalee writer”, is the founder of the online forum called South Asian Feminism that aims to embrace, reclaim and celebrate all things South Asian.
“I had the idea of creating the hashtag #SouthIndianAndProud, after I saw this hashtag ‘#brownszn’ going around on Twitter. It was just North Indians and Pakistanis in a group chat using that caption as an excuse for selfies. At that moment, I realised how prevalent light skin supremacy was and how being ‘desi’ was very North Indian and Pakistani oriented,” says Tricia.
Tricia admits that she has seen so many South Asian beauty accounts on Twitter that frequently promote people with Eurocentric features or ones who are fair.
“I hated how many are unaware that there are five states in South India compromising so many ethnicities and languages and dialects within them. Not all of us are ‘Madrasis’ like people often imagine,” she says.
Sick and tired of South Indians being underappreciated, she started posting her photographs under the hashtag SouthIndianAndProud. Within minutes, her tiny little post snowballed into a movement that even though she didn’t see coming, she is very proud of. People from across the world, both men and women, started posting their photographs.
“Proud of being part of the dark skin community,” posted one user online; while another wrote, “If you believe that #SouthIndianAndProud is about division and not empowerment, you have a lot to learn about prejudice in India.”
“I have received many messages from my followers and friends thanking me for creating the hashtag. One of my friends from Australia has said that they ‘showed it to their religion/society teacher’ and they might even ‘use it for their social change case study’. Another Malayalee wrote and said to me that, ‘even though (he) was not the most in-touch with his Malayalee culture, it was really nice to see so, so many people embracing their South Indian (heritage) when it gets an underserved bad reputation’,” she says.
A student at ITE College Central, Tricia is Malayalee-Chinese on her dad’s side and North Indian-Tamil on her mom’s side. “I have faced issues where Singaporeans think every Indian is a Tamilian with their Mother tongue being Tamil, and they are confused when I tell them there are more South Indian ethnicities and languages. My parents are able to converse in their own language but speak to me in English. As a result, I do not know how to speak in my native tongues. With that, I have had many people ridicule me for not knowing Tamil and have also had people think that I am ashamed to be Indian which is why I refuse to speak in Tamil,” says Tricia, adding,
“I find that many South Indians are the subject of ridicule because many Singaporeans here poke fun at Tamil and how it sounds ‘funny’. I have a very English sounding name and because of it I would pretend that I belonged to other races or ethnicities which would leave people curious. I was ashamed of my race and the skin tone I was born with. More than ever I wanted to be fair, so I lied to people about being Bengali, Eurasian, etc. It worked well for me before because that allowed me not to be the butt of jokes until people eventually found out. But now things are different, I have been more than proud and unapologetic of my ethnicities.” And South Indians seem to agree as the social media sites are inundated with them sharing their photos and being proud of them.
“There has been some backlash where people question why we are excluding other Indians from the hashtag, but this was never to say who was better or to ostracise any party. It was to showcase South India in all its mystery and beauty, which is so commonly forgotten. It was our spotlight to shine,” she says....