Against the recent backdrop of the gang rape incident in Delhi, rapper Honey Singh found himself surrounded by a number of protesting activists and NGOs. Some of his songs have come under the scanner and have been termed by these activists as offensive towards women.
However, the rapper himself has denied being associated with one such song which has in particular grabbed attention for demeaning women. The song has been doing the rounds on internet for quite some time even though neither the management nor the singer has claimed responsibility towards the ownership of the song.
While the trueownership of this song could be debatable, the question that needs to be asked is should this matter be given the amount of attention it has and more specifically, are songs such as those made by Honey Singh responsible for the growing rape and sexual violence towards women.
While it would be true to say that many of the contemporary songs do objectify women (of which Bollywood has a lot to answer for) which further affects the position of women in society, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture while making such claims.
On New Year’s Eve, Honey Singh was forced to withdraw from the show at Bristol Hotel where he was scheduled to perform. Many people on social media celebrated the occasion by terming it the ‘first battle won’ on the first day of the New Year. It is here where the masses, activists and progressives need to take a step back and reassess their goals and strategies in a manner which does not over generalize and trivialize the issue at stake.
While there is not enough space in this article to look deeply at these issues, I have highlighted them in order to contribute to the debate about both the causes of gender violence, and the debate about what can and should be done about it.
A few points must be taken into account. Firstly, by focusing primarily on a single agenda and on a single individual, notwithstanding how achievable or worthwhile it is, we lose sight of more significant issues, thereby weakening the argument and the cause itself. By no means should any form of derogatory remarks towards women be tolerated in songs or public speeches but it should be recognized that removing sexism in songs and speeches, though helpful, cannot in itself fix the problem.
Secondly, by focusing on silencing the sexist elements within one’s speech without taking into account the existing power structures prevalent within the society, any efforts made in this direction would prove to be futile in the long run. It is for this reason the ultimate goal should be to alter the existing gender power differentials by aiming for a radical social transformation in order to truly achieve its ultimate aim of women emancipation. This cannot take place without altering the very power structures that have given rise to the ideology that gets manifested in speech towards women. Thirdly, devoting too much time and resources in shutting down the activities of people like Honey Singh would unnecessarily shift the focus of the debate from the praxis of gender relations to a debate about freedom of speech and would end up dividing public opinion and complicating matters further.
This is not a suggestion that time and effort should not be spent in protesting against such people but rather that it is imperative to address and correct their sexist and misogynistic attitudes. It is also not suggested that people should have the right to free speech no matter how violent and discriminating it may be towards women but that it has to be met with responsibility and accountability. The only necessary point is to refrain from over generalizing the effects of certain songs on the whole praxis of gender relations and not to attribute certain songs wholly as the cause of sexual violence and rape crises prevalent in the society.
Fourthly, caution is to be exercised whilst advocating for a ban or censorship of certain songs as doing this could further provide an impetus to the reactionary conservative forces that could later use this move to further their own agenda of maintaining the status quo and perpetuating existing power structures and thus consequently could prove to be detrimental to a revolutionary change in the society.
Censorship may sound appealing when the censors are targeting people we dislike, but for anyone interested in social transformation, censorship is negative in the long run.It is for these reasons that attitudinal and discourse level changes cannot be brought about independently and remain strongly influenced by the material and structural conditions. Without a change on the structural level, any meaningful change would seem unattainable.