By Sayantan Ghosh:
Last week a 19-year-old girl was stabbed to death in New Delhi in the Anand Parbat area by two men. The Class 11 student had filed several complaints with the Delhi police against Jai Prakash and his brother since they started harassing her in 2013, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. After days and months of being followed, stalked, subjected to lewd comments and mental torture, she landed up losing her life.
This incident has no direct correlation with celebrity rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh. Except that I won’t be very surprised if I found a song or two by him in the phone playlist of the two accused in the above case. It may seem like an irrational premise, sure. But if we think it through, there may be a deeper social context here.
Catchy tunes and amusing lyrics, the portmanteau of his songs make them popular across economic and social boundaries, from inside auto-rickshaws in Patparganj to discos and pubs in Hauz Khas village. For the economically backward it is a sign of empowerment, songs that treat them purely on the basis of their manhood and not their education, upbringing or the lack of it. For the nouveau riche, they only help brush their bumbling egos better.
I must admit that I am not against any form of art. Censorship often curtails independent voices in our country that is already grappling with countless confines of blind beliefs and customs. But freedom of expression alone cannot justify propagating misogynistic lyrics that Honey Singh’s listeners are subjected to, and very frighteningly which also makes him so popular. Many of his songs are about dealing with break-ups, which is an easily identifiable issue for the youth. Which is why lines that predict the girl who dumped him will end up marrying a loser and her future will only involve washing his undergarments and doing dishes, sound dangerously evocative.
Nobody is blaming him for rapes or sexual assaults (has been done already). But his defense that he only writes about things he observes is also warped. As an artist, and more importantly a public figure, if he regularly encounters men who treat women like sex objects and are always prepared to teach them a “lesson”, shouldn’t he be writing songs defaming such behavior?
What are the ramifications of lines like, “Ek do nahin mere paas poore–Ek sau tareeke teri jaisi ko Badshah ke peeche lagaane ke–Ghar le jaane ke, jannat dikhaane ke”, in the psyche of a “ditched” man waiting with a bottle of acid in the corner of a street or with a hammer in his hand outside a girl’s classroom?
Recently when I visited Calcutta, I met my 15-year-old cousin who is a self-declared fan of the superstar. When I asked him to sing one of his songs for me, he unhesitatingly began to hum a few lines from an infamous super hit number called “Main Hoon Balatkari”*. On being queried if he knew the meaning of the lines he was singing, he seemed oblivious. And this, I’m sure is the case with many kids who claim to be his ardent fans.
I’m offering no free cookies for guessing what this particular song is about. Apart from being profane, it’s also a shameless celebration of a heinous crime that our past and present governments have been constantly struggling to tackle, despite making every attempt to strengthen protocols and safety measures. Needless to say, Raat ko nikali naari–hui gadi pe savaari–par voh raat usko pad gayi bhari, is not a song any brother would like to hear from his younger one.
The idea of this is not to put a ban on Honey Singh, the “youth icon”. He, I am sure, has gone through his fair share of struggle to reach where he is today. Instead the idea is that if we try together, tweet, share, spread this thought, maybe it will reach him too and perhaps we will be able to stop him from becoming the unofficial messiah of every misanthropist in this country.
If only he steps down from his luxury motorcar and takes a walk down an empty midnight city street someday, he’ll perhaps feel the same discomfort his songs bring to people, especially women, for who it is a part of their daily routine.
*Editor’s note: The artist has denied that he sang this particular song.