Why It’s Important To Contain The Honey Singh Epidemic Before It’s Too Late

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.

honey singhThis 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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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