A few days ago, I didn’t know there was a rapper called Yo Yo Honey Singh (no, seriously) Hardly surprising given that the main form of music that i consume is Hindustani Classical Vocal. Yet, today i know more about him than i need to.
In brief, Yo Yo Honey Singh is a punjabi rapper, supposedly popular, done some Bollywood numbers. He has written and sung some grossly offensive lyrics, where he raps about women in (im)purely sexual terms, often violently sexual terms. Not surprisingly, women, men and activist groups are outraged. One policeman in UP was so outraged that he filed a FIR against the rapper.
At one level there is the absolute bad taste and obscenity of the lyrics, at the other end is the concept of Free Speech. It is next to impossible to legislate bad taste. Obscenity can be legislated but it is a slippery slope. You find Honey Singh’s lyrics offensive; I find swear words that suggest incest with sister, daughter & mother offensive; someone else finds girls showing their legs offensive; yet others find homosexuality offensive; there are those who find casual sex offensive; yet other who find live in relationships offensive. There are people who find paintings offensive, yet others who find depiction of Gods and Prophets offensive; others find books offensive, and there are those who find music videos offensive. Unfortunately you cannot just have the things you find offensive banned. In a democracy, either everyone demands to get things banned are accepted, or there are no bans.
On Yo Yo Honey Singh and his alleged lyrics (alleged, because his lawyers claim that they are not written by him) the excuse used is that it promotes misogyny and ‘bad’ behavior towards women. I could give you the academic arguments – No message is that strong as to have such a powerful impact on its audiences; that audiences consume a plethora of messages from a multitude of media and choose which medium and messages to accept and which to reject; but this is not my classroom I could give you the strawman argument – where were you when Kolaveri went viral; did you laugh at that famous chamatkar balatkar speech in 3 idiots ; did you dance to jumma chumma de de - but that is neither here nor there.
The list of films and TV shows that are misogynistic and encourage ‘bad’ behavior towards women are too many to be listed. Domestic Violence, Marital Rape, Sexual harassment,second class status are par for the course. And, why do they succeed – because they reflect society. Every time media tries to create content that is not regressive, not misogynistic, it fails. A few years ago a channel had created a show that featured a female protagonist who fought for women’s issues. Her back story was that she had survived rape and rebuilt her life to fight injustice (in the courts) against women. The show flopped. Post show research revealed a very interesting attitude. The audience feedback was ‘aurat ghar ke bahar jayegi, toh balatkar to hona hi hai’.
The fact remains that our societies are deeply misogynistic. And that is going to take time to change. Atleast two more generations, if not more. Given the misogynistic nature of society – the State has to bear a greater burden in ensuring that equality for women does not remain a paper provision. They have to provide for basic security. Both within the household and outside it. The System has to modify its processes and procedures, sensitize its employees – from elected officials to cops on the beat and be more accountable to the people. It is time the system came down heavily on non Constitutional bodies like the Caste Panchayats from impinging on women’s freedoms. The government needs to move the courts to proactively protect women’s rights from organized religion.
The State, the System and Society have been failing on most counts vis-a-vis women and women’s rights. Other interests are more important. Caste, Community, Vote Banks and the rest have succeeded in tethering women’s rights.
In the scheme of things issues like Item Numbers and Honey Singh are great diversionary tactics – we can discuss freedoms and obscenity; objectification and misogyny till kingdom come. But neither the rapper nor the dancer cause rape or sexual harassment. That is the product of a society that kills its daughters, that burns its daughters-in-laws; that traffics its wives. A society that values stupid machismo, where honour means beheading your sister for daring to find happiness, and where culture means covering up the woman incase the man gets tempted. It is the product of a system of policing that makes women feel incredibly unsafe; of political parties that choose Misogynistic Pigs (with all due apologies to all the pigs in the world) to represent them.
Discussing Honey Singh or Item Girls, diverts our anger from the things that need to be changed. it diverts our anger to easily achievable things – shutting down a new year concert or filling airtime with outrage on “Item” numbers. I am not saying outrage is wrong – by all means outrage – it is a free country and outrage is good for the soul but, in this constantly moving target of outrage scenario, focus on change is lost. And, unless there is focus on systemic change – women are going to remain unsafe.