One day, Honey Singh was best known for composing songs at extravagant rates, which belied all musical sensibility by garnering millions of hits on YouTube.
Another day, he was the misogynist our country blames for rape, for “promoting violence against women”, with the same songs people jived to in clubs, before the bus rape case.
Now, the most popular comments on the YouTube video corresponding to his Ch**t Vol. 1 are those that insult his mother, posted by people who are raging against women being blamed for everything. Then again, I suppose getting raped and raising one’s son to write “vulgar and misogynist” lyrics aren’t the same thing.
Suddenly, the flag-bearers of the right to freedom of speech are cheering the filing of an FIR against the Punjabi rapper.
My Facebook feed is filled with people feeling vindicated about his New Year concert at the Bristol Hotel being cancelled.
But for the protesters to turn all their wrath on Honey Singh will encourage a dangerous trend – that of getting activism mixed up with tokenism.
The charges against Honey Singh appear to be that his lyrics are offensive to women, and that his popularity will encourage people who listen to his music to rape people to their loins’ content.
First up, rappers across the world haven’t exactly been beacons of feminism. It’s a given that their songs objectify women, and we rarely take note of the lyrics, as we gyrate to the beats. Almost all their videos have women climbing all over the rapper – and each other – wearing almost nothing, and we take it for granted that the genre has an audience that we may or may not be part of.
Recently, the song Booty Popping, which features a six-year-old rapper with a weird belly-button hitting on women twice his size, went viral, and raked up a fair deal of righteous anger in America. But the anger was directed against the parents of the child and producers of the video for exposing him to the rap culture, and not against a genre of music that comprises songs with titles such as “Booty Popping”.
Then, there are the lyrics of Akon’s big hit, Smack That, which go:
Maybe go to my place and just kick it like Tae Bo,
And possibly bend you over, look back and watch me
Smack that, all on the floor
Smack that, give me some more
Smack that, ’til you get sore
Smack that, oh ooh
Pedicure, manicure, kitty-cat claws
The way she climbs up and down them poles
Looking like one of them putty-cat dolls
Trying to hold my woodie back through my drawers
And then, there’s 50 cent, with his Candy Shop, featuring female rapper Olivia, with lyrics that go:
I’ll take you to the candy shop
I’ll let you lick the lollipop
Go ’head girl, don't you stop
Keep going ’til you hit the spot (whoa)
His song In Da Club, which played for several years as the closing song in discotheques across this country, features the word “faggot”, and goes:
I’m into having sex, I ain’t into making love
So come give me a hug if you into getting rubbed
And then there’s Eminem’s Ass Like That, which “objectifies” a bunch of famous female pop stars. Maybe Honey should have got a Pomeranian to sing his song, and called it subversive.
The idea of resistance, which is associated with the origins of rap, is no longer about resisting white supremacy, or societal mores. It’s about resisting all signs of prudery and restrictiveness, and bursting out with the things-that-should-not-be-said. What Honey Singh writes makes him just another typical rapper, not any more of a misogynist or rape-propagator than his fellow-rappers.
Secondly, if we see him as an icon of popular culture, and are fighting the idea of women being subjugated through pop culture, I don’t see why we’re targeting him and ignoring cinema.
I remember watching a Tamil film called Marumagale Vazhga (literally translated as ‘Long live, Daughter-in-law’) sometime in the Nineties, in which the female protagonist (played by actress Suhasini) is raped by a rowdy (played by actor Chandrashekhar).
She is engaged to her long-time boyfriend (played by actor Raghuvaran), who tells her to dismiss the rape as she would an accident. But, she believes her honour is sullied, and she can only be redeemed by marrying her rapist. She finds he comes from a broken family, whose remnants are determined to torture and kill her, and the film is all about her stoic obedience and unconditional love winning them over.
The Hindi film Raja Hindustani has a scene in which Aamir Khan slaps Karisma Kapoor for “insulting” him, and storms off in a huff. She acts coy, and spends the next ten minutes singing to seduce him, accompanied by a retinue of servants to ape her moves.
Today, both Aamir Khan and Suhasini have donned the role of socially-conscious actors, whose activism is lauded by the media.
And, of course, there’s the big Tamil hit 7G, Rainbow Colony, in which a man sexually harasses a woman till she agrees to go out with him. The next thing you know, she’s in love with him. I’ve had arguments for years with friends and acquaintances about the quality of the film, which is seen as breakthrough cinema for reasons beyond my comprehension.
I do recall that, a few days into the film’s release, I was walking down Mount Road, an arterial road running through most of Madras. A young man began to follow me, calling out (in Tamil) things like, “Why don’t girls like you love people like us? Don’t walk so fast. Why are you wearing tight jeans if you don’t want me to look at you? Do you wear jeans only for people who drive cars? You think those are the men who’ll marry you, but they’ll just use you. We ride buses, but we’re the ones who’ll care for you [a line straight out of every Tamil film from about 1990 to 2012]. Don’t run! What do you think, people like me are creeps just because we’re dark?”
Thankfully, an auto drove up, and I suppose I looked terrified enough for him to stop and tell me to get in without even asking me where I wanted to go. As the auto took off, my stalker called, “Go watch 7G Rainbow Colony. You’ll know what I mean! Hindikaari bitch!”
The last slur was a reference to the large Marwari community in Madras, to which, at the time, most women who wore jeans and had ambiguous colouring, were thought to belong. I began to well up in the auto, partly because I was nineteen years old, and partly because I was very fond of the tight jeans – which I was wearing because, for the first (and last) time in my life, I’d wanted to show off my newly-acquired 25-inch waist.
“These fools watch these movies, and think they own the world,” the auto driver muttered.
And yes, he was right. I would blame the fools, not the film. To indict the likes of Honey Singh is to absolve those who take anything said or shown in pop culture to be an endorsement, and those who take endorsements by the pop industry to be legal sanction.
A few years ago, another Tamil film, Katradhu Tamizh, hit the theatres, and I’d gone to watch an afternoon show with a male friend. In the film, there’s a scene where the main character lunges at the chest of a woman wearing a T-shirt, because it has ‘Touch Me’ written across its chest. He rages, “Why do you wear a T-shirt that says ‘Touch Me’ if you don’t want me to touch you?” The line raised a cheer from the almost entirely male audience. It didn’t foster a notion, so much as strike a chord with notions they already had. We waited till the cinema was empty before we left.
We ban cigarette ads and want films to include statutory warnings during scenes that show people smoking. We censor films. And now, we blame rape on pop culture.
What we should be blaming is not the singer or filmmaker – Honey Singh is no more guilty for his song-writing than Raj Kapoor is for making adolescent girls go topless in so many of his films – but the public, which endows pop culture with the responsibility of validating action. And the mentality that anything endorsed in popular culture is part of a cause-effect flowchart. Why do we pretend that the film industry is here for any purpose other than to entertain, and to make money? Since when did the industry take charge of our moral growth?
The outrage over Honey Singh’s lyrics reminds me of a similar outbreak of anger and sarcasm some months ago. Feminists across India got into a tizzy over a product called 18 Again, a gel that promises to tighten vaginas for maximum pleasure, and that burst into our lives with a couple doing the salsa in the process of wife giving husband his lunch dabba. I don’t see how the product is any different from any other overpriced beauty product.
In the end, they all boil down to body image. And if so many women are so offended by allusions to their bodies, or by “body fascism”, why didn’t they speak up when Aishwarya Rai was attacked over putting on weight after having a baby? And why do so many of them admire Malaika Arora Khan for having kept herself skinny enough to do item numbers, despite shooting a baby out some years ago?
It irritates me that people think they’ve done their bit by protesting for a couple of days, and getting themselves on television. It irritates me that NGOs have capitalised on the Delhi bus rape protests in the way they have. It irritates me that the media has transformed itself into a bunch of pseudo-activist organisations.
If we really want to stop crime against women, the first thing we should recognise is that our mentality and our conditioning need to change. To recognise that it isn’t the responsibility of pop stars or filmmakers, but of the consumers of that industry, to be more discerning. Because if we blame Honey Singh, and not the people who think his word is The Truth and The Light, we’re thinking with our vaginas.
Read more from this author:
The Delhi bus-rape: Why the reactions scare me
A year of gaffes: Why don't our politicians shut up?
Why do we pay for a House on strike?
How closely is Big Brother watching us?
Why Kasab won't make a good martyr
Why does no one care about the right to choose?
Book Review: The Teenager and the Art of Delusion
The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com