[ Daily News and Analysis, 7 Jan 2013 ; Echo of India, 15 Jan 2013 ; Millenium Post, 12 Jan 2013 ]
A specific song by Honey Singh has been ‘discovered’. The tragic incident at Delhi created the fertile ground for this. If the discovery was supposed to raise awareness against the contents of the songs and thus censuring Honey Singh, that scheme has failed miserably. The number of online views of the said song has shot-up steeply ever since the free publicity. So much for sensitization. Honey Singh has since then denied having to do anything with the 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 misogynist groups 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 Singh has provided a strange equalizing opportunity, a short-cut of sorts.
Some of the same who are so-outraged and want to stop watching Anurag Kashyap’s movies for his association with Honey, do not stop deifying the tinsel- jewels in that sordid procession that led to the mansion of the erstwhile Mumbai butcher. Neither will they 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. Many patriotic songs are full of exhortation of death and killing of name-less ‘others’. ‘Religious songs’ have elements of killing demons (considered by many as euphemism for dalits) and infidels. But we are like this only.
Some have deemed the lyrics of the specific song akin to hate speech. The song, in addition to explicit description of sexual acts, objectifies women as sexual objects, indeed as objects to rape. The curious thing is, while so many people are denouncing the song, it also liked by many. One is free to judge people who like it but online anonymity is a curious mirror, which often shows that even in the absence of a public voice that likes the song, such liking exists nonetheless. If one considers penning and singing the song as criminal, is liking the song similarly criminal? If I publicly stick my neck out and say I like the song, is that criminal? You may not like to talk to me or ‘give’ your daughter in marriage to me or ‘leave’ your sister alone near me – but that is up to you. But am I to be prosecuted for stating that I like it? This is not an argument for the sake of being contrarian.
Honey Singh has put to tune utterances and fantasies that are not unknown. He has sung what many males 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. To problem with such conjectures is that they do not have a clear causal relationship with criminal action. In the absence of that crucial link, to criminalize human behavior, however reprehensible it may be to some, leads all of us down an extremely slippery path. For what is important is the principle of criminality that gets legitimacy – that there does not need to be a strict causal relationship between action and crime. 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 any less likely to grope. And why should everything be ‘family friendly’ anyways? I have a hunch that we have more to lose by sacrificing free expression than the supposed gains of censoring Honey Singh. The slow systemic effects of the former can however pale in front of the immediate charge of the latter. Also, media ‘explicitness’ as a cause for sexual violence also tacitly legitimizes the ‘titilation’ theory. The less said about that, the better.
Central to all of this is a certain anxiety that unless there are curbs, the Honey Singhs will win hands down. There is a tacit acknowledgement that there are no robust alternatives on offer to item numbers or to the likes of Honey Singh. And there is the rub. There is a secret fear that there is no cultural repertoire that is up-to-date and ‘presentable’. Beyond religion and sex, the relationship of the market with non-sexual elements of ‘Lok-sanskriti’ is faint. In ‘Lok’ sanskriti, the real ‘Lok’ is important in production, consumption and propagation. When profiteers reduce the role of ‘lok’ only to consumption, we have a problem at hand. Organized industry has a certain idiom it is comfortable. 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.
One hundred ‘folk-music’ festivals in fashionable AC auditoriums in Delhi cannot provide alternatives work in a context where ‘folk’ are displaced and brutalized. Music and art, in their many shades, springs from 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 Singh lives. Only when we have a world where we cut no roots, then we shall see. 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 is ‘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. In disowning him, however loudly, there is not the slightest risk of any displaced community getting their homestead back. Honey Singh and the ‘Folk’ Festivals have already won.