The recent incident with the 23-year-old medical student in the capital city had done something that had rarely, if not for the first time, been witnessed before. It galvanized the nation and every corner of the country resounded with a unified cry for change. A change in the way we work to protect our women and a change in the way we perceive and treat our women.
People were left mortified, angry and outraged and a sudden but direct product of the people’s rage was also an outcry over Punjabi rapper Honey Singh’s misogynistic lyrics. An online petition demanding that a Gurgaon hotel cancel a New Year's Eve performance by the rapper ignited a thought that many may have missed out or chosen to ignore before. The petition cited lyrics from a 2006 song ‘ch**t’, accusing the rapper of writing hurtful and violent lyrics directed towards women. Incidentally, it was the same song that had previously provided him with a cult status in the north while the rest of the country soon caught on.
Those who signed the petition were accused of moral policing, while those who didn’t, were accused of encouraging a similar kind of misogynistic viewpoint.
Up until the 31st of December 2012, the rapper was considered as one of the rising stars of Bollywood and had two of the ten most popular videos on YouTube. However, in the light of the situation that gripped the nation, the ongoing conversation about the culture of misogyny that approves such malevolent sexual violence against women, within our society, put Honey Singh under the wrong kind of spotlight.
But, dig a little deeper and you may find that the core of the issue doesn’t really pertain only to Honey Singh’s music. In fact, the degradation of women is a common phenomenon to rap music across the globe. View many rap music videos and it is blatantly obvious that women are present for the mere delight of the male rapper and his friends. Put simply, it is painfully clear that women are mere sex objects; and this is predominately true of many music videos being made today; in the country and abroad.
We should not be surprised that some of them denigrate women since we live in a sex-starved culture; a culture that has reduced women to a commodity or ‘object’ for years. In fact, I had once come across a question put forth by a certain columnist in the U.S. called Sylvester Brown that could instigate many today. His question, “Which came first: rappers as a misogynistic influence or misogyny’s influence on rappers?” was a particularly relevant one. While I think any form of woman exploitation is deplorable, I think Brown’s question is a thoughtful one and many would have to say that our obsession with ‘using‘ women precedes the advent of Honey Singh. Back in 2006 (incidentally the same year Singh’s song in question was released), Rapper LL Cool J had even appealed to all rappers to stop demeaning women in their music videos.
As a woman, I do find Singh’s lyrics rather offensive and undoubtedly violent, but there is a larger fear that grips my mind. Billy Joel had once said “Music is an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from”. If that were to be true, then the music that Honey Singh had made or is making, would be a part of that expression too. An expression or an idea of what humanity today, stands for. That is my greatest fear. The fear that many may be aware of the mood-influencing power of music but few really understand the incredible power it has in changing the world. Plato understood the power of music when he wrote, “Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws; I will control its people”.
I am all for freedom of expression and I do believe that each individual has a right to express themselves in the way they want to. However, there needs to be a way we can constantly remind ourselves that we live in a world of easy access and our thoughts, ideas and expressions are available for all. What we say within the four walls of our bedroom is nobody’s business but on a public medium, the weight of the same words get magnified and the number people at the receiving end get significantly multiplied. So, if artists continue to be unaware of the way the ‘society’ absorbs their art and just how powerful their creative product can be, in bringing about a change in perception; they’ll continue to be unaware of how they are responsible in shaping our lives and creating the culture around us.
But thankfully, the world of music has much more to offer, than just Honey singh’s rap. For every song that Singh may have written that could even remotely be misogynistic and violent towards women, there’ll also be a Tupac song that’ll praise women and put a thought in every rap listeners mind
“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?”