A number of voices — some cogent, some misguided — have come out in protest against Honey Singh’s ‘obscene’ & ‘inflammatory’ lyrics, but Annie Zaidi writes that the matter of vital important is the rapper’s casual depiction of wanton violence against women
Members of Progressive Student’s Association protesting against Honey Singh’s ‘anti-women, vulgar and disturbing’ music in Jammu on 4 August, 2012
Dear Yo Yo Honey,
Listen. What was your first word? ‘Ma’?
Words are one of the first things we ache for. A baby learns to say ‘Ma’ or ‘Pa’ or ‘Daadi’ because those are the words of first love. Then comes ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Biscuit’. They point to eyes, say ‘eyes’. They are happy when they go to a park. They ask: Why do cats eat rats? Why can’t I follow you into the bathroom?
Yo Yo, a baby learns words as a way of understanding his world. Papa says he must go out to work so he can feed you. You learn that a man must make money. If Ma beats you, you learn that beating is alright. You listen to a song about heartbreak and learn that pain can be expressed through art. You hear of other boys stalking girls; you start doing the same. You want to know how sex works; you look for photos, books, videos.
Words are the tools through which we assimilate, and learn to negotiate society. This process never ends. Every year I change a little bit because of what I absorb, mostly through words. What I read, watch, experience, dream, overhear.
Society is a mish-mash of image, word and experience. This is what culture is. Artists are not loved for nothing. They grasp our shared truth. They help us derive meaning from the chaos of life.
But many male artists have confused ideas about sex, masculinity and femininity. Their lyrics and videos create fake meanings. For example, a man and woman are dancing. They are smiling. But the lyrics suggest violent sex, or hint at a disrespectful relationship. The viewer is left to connect the dots.
The women acting in most videos are not dressed in working clothes. But the men often are. Women are never shown doing any work, although most women put in twice the number of work hours.
What do the songs say? They tell a lie, right? A dangerous untruth about what women are like and what they deserve. Lyrics in your newer songs – High Heels, for instance – are entirely focused on the outer shell of a woman. It makes me wonder if you can see us as anything other than female-shaped thingies. Video after video after video.
Perhaps you’re feeling petulant. Perhaps you’ve moved on from that sort of video or lyrics, and you want everyone to forget your past.
Sadly, Yo Yo, it doesn’t work that way. Fame comes slowly. It took 6 years for your infamous song to reach my ears. Art is not witnessed or dismissed overnight. Just like violent ideas are not assimilated and put into practice overnight.
About your Gurgaon show, there were two petitions going around. I did not sign one because it used words like ‘pornographic’ and ‘offensive’. I know you have a right to give offense. Besides, I am not opposed to nudity or sexual imagery in any art form.
So, this is not about pornography. It is not about obscenity. It is definitely not about sex. I did sign the other petition because it objected to the violence embedded in your songs.
Lyrics in your newer songs – High Heels, for instance – are entirely focused on the outer shell of a woman. It makes me wonder if you can see us as anything other than female-shaped thingies. Video after video after video.
The free speech bogey was raised, although there’s a big difference. In other cases, it was the government imposing a ban, or a bunch of hooligans threatening physical violence, or damaging spaces where artists exhibit.
I did not threaten to attack the hotel. I just let them know that I would cease to respect the management. These are the tools of democracy, Yo Yo. If the hotel did not care for my opinion, they could have gone on with your show. But perhaps, they want to be thought of as responsive. Or maybe they’re just avoiding bad press. Maybe you’ll do a show in Gurgaon a week later.
I have no desire to destroy your career, Yo Yo. This is actually about your fans. And hotels, sponsors, record labels, film producers – everyone who banks on misogyny to make money. I cannot help it if fans of songs like Choot exist. I cannot stop people from acting on their hatred and fear of women‘s sexuality. But I will not let it flow on, unchallenged.
I’m not unreasonable, Yo Yo. I read petitions before signing my name. And I accept that people can change. You could spend time thinking about what kind of music you make, and whether it is honest, whether it hurts women. You could just put out a note in the papers – or even on Facebook – taking a stand. You could do it even now.
But our ideas about democracy are funny. We forget that with fundamental rights come fundamental responsibilities. That’s what it means to be free – taking ownership of your work, your environment, your ideas.
Slowly, slowly, our society learnt to associate sex with shame and violence and self-hatred and woman-hatred. Yo Yo, we must unlearn it very quickly.
But I have said enough. You say something now. And make it mean something.
Annie Zaidi is the author of Known Turf and the co-author of The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl
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