A song that celebrates rape and sung allegedly by Honey Singh has been ‘discovered’. The tragedy in Delhi created the ground for this. If the discovery was supposed to raise awareness against the contents of the songs, that scheme has failed miserably. The number of online views of the said song has shot up steeply ever since the free publicity. Honey has denied singing the ‘Balatkari’ song.
Many people and groups, who, till yesterday had hardly heard of Honey Singh or this song, have assembled his paper and cloth idols to consign them to flames in public amidst much supportive sloganeering. This speedy move from relative ignorance to active denunciation, however heartfelt, is all too familiar. This has also given a good cover to misogynists to peddle high-decibel righteousness. If morality-fired censorship riding high on the back of a human tragedy is not immoral and cynical, I do not know what is. Even more cynical is how some such groups stand side-by-side folks who have devoted decades working at the grassroots – Honey has provided a strange equalizing opportunity, a short-cut.
Many patriotic songs are full of exhortation of death and killing of name-less ‘enemies’. ‘Religious songs’ have elements of killing demons (considered by many as euphemism for Dalits) and infidels. Most of the folks who want to stop watching Anurag Kashyap’s movies for his association with Honey, will not stop using products that are advertised using advertisements that ‘objectify’ women or boycott filmstars who publicly endorse such products. Walking the talk requires a different culture than consumer culture. We are like this only.
Honey Singh has put to tune fantasies that are known and liked widely — what many draw on bathroom walls. Some argue that the free distribution of such material creates an ambience that facilitates viewing women in a certain way – rape is a part of that way of viewing. The individual, in such a milieu, has a greater propensity to rape. The problem with such conjectures is that they do not have a clear causal relationship with criminal action. In the absence of that crucial strict causal link between action and crime, to criminalise human behaviour, however reprehensible it may be to some, leads all of us down an extremely slippery path. Theories of broad propensity are good enough. Consider the implications of this for the ‘single, migrant, underclass, male’ theory.
We should strive towards a fuller understanding of the popularity of songs such as these. The sad use of ‘impressionable children’ to grind their own axe has to stop. There is no evidence that grandfathers from ‘purer’ times are any less likely to grope. And why should everything be ‘family friendly’ anyways? Media ‘explicitness’ as a cause for sexual violence also tacitly legitimizes the ‘titilation’ theory. The less said about that, the better. We have more to lose by sacrificing free expression than the supposed gains of censoring Honey Singh.
There is an anxiety that unless there are curbs, Honeys will take all. There is a tacit acknowledgement that there is no robust alternative on offer. And there is the rub. There is a secret fear that there is no cultural repertoire that is up-to-date and ‘presentable’ as alternative to ‘the youth’. Beyond religion and sex, the relationship of the market with non-sexual elements of ‘Lok-sanskriti’ is faint. Real ‘Lok’ is important in production, consumption and propagation. When profiteers limit ‘Lok’ only to consumption, we have a problem. Organised industry has a certain idiom it is comfortable with. Socially rooted cultural produce without corporate intermediaries, say, the Baul-shahajiya minstrels, thrive in a supportive ecology. One cannot take away the ecology and then expect that it will continue its own evolution, as if nothing changed.
No number of ‘folk-music’ festivals in Delhi can provide alternatives in the backdrop where ‘folk’ are systematically displaced and brutalized on a daily basis. Music and art, in their many shades, spring forth from life. Without it, it is simply a plant without roots — destined to die sooner or later. The new world selectively cuts roots. Hence Honey lives. After the destruction of rooted cultural idioms and ways of life, from where does one expect songs of life to spring? What will the songs be about – since sadness and pain are ‘unfit’ for modern consumption? Even the idea of songs from struggles of the displaced is met with the some kind of mental cringe, if not a mental block. Consumption is the basic framework in the new world. And there are no holy hills, groves, cultures, homelands, people. Honey Singh has sung the allegorical anthem of the new world. He may have sung it a bit too loudly, at an inopportune time.
Garga Chatterjee is a postdoctoral scholar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.