The television commercial for the skin-whitening cream shows a gorgeous Indian woman so light-skinned she could be Nordic. It holds out the promise that women born dark can achieve the same pallor. If a women's group has its way, the advertisement, and others like it, will be taken off India's television screens. The cream, Fair and Lovely, is the brand leader among skin-whiteners in the Indian market. Most Indians, culturally programmed to view fair skin as superior to dark, find nothing objectionable in the commercials. But the All India Democratic Women's Association has complained to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, saying the adverts create an unhealthy colour prejudice. The minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, has taken a sympathetic view. He has asked private broadcasters to explain why the government should not act against them. Mr Prasad said he wants them to conform to the advertising code of the state-owned channel which, he says, 'prohibits the broadcasting of any programme or commercial that could promote superstitions'. The women's association's Promila Bhande says: 'The ads are demeaning for women. The message is that women should change their skin colour if they wish to be desirable. It's rubbish.' The group says it wrote to the manufacturers, Hindustan Lever, asking it to withdraw the advertisement, and only complained to the government when it received no reply. Indian's skin colour ranges from milk-white to charcoal. But the view that fairness amounts to beauty is near-universal. Most film stars and models are fair. The market for fairness creams is booming. In the past few years, at least a dozen new brands have entered the market, taking the number of creams to more than 30. The fairness products market in India was worth US$118 million (HK$920 million) in 2001. Dermatologists chuckle at the phenomenon, saying that no externally applied cream can change skin colour, which is determined by the amount of melanin in the skin and is unalterable. But try telling that to users of skin-whitener. 'I feel better if I use it and I think there's been a difference, so I'll go on using it,' said Neeta Banerji, who has used Fair and Lovely for two years.