Sheila Badnaam Hui

Why bringing Honey Singh into the discourse on Delhi rapists is a bad idea.

Honey Singh and Delhi Rape case

Yo Yo Honey Singh ended up not performing at Bristol hotel on New Year’s Eve. The prevailing anger and pressure exerted by outraged citizens worked.

It’s going to be hard making a serious case in a piece that starts with the words Yo Yo Honey Singh.

A video of Sheila Dikshit grooving on stage with Yo Yo Honey Singh went viral and the Delhi Chief Minister got much flak.

There has been a wave of popular outpouring for a gender-sensitive society, which includes how women are addressed in pop culture. About time. It’s imperative. However, there appear to be inaccurate connections being drawn and disproportionate reactions which miss the target. There is nothing wrong with over-reaction either. If an unfair imbalance has existed in any social context for long, it’s probable and desirable that the debate will swing to the other end of unreasonableness before it finds a fair equilibrium. My attempt is merely to point out that there are false equivalences being created and they do a disservice to the horrific Delhi rape case.

The Yo Yo Honey Singh case must not be clubbed with the Delhi rape. It’s not fair to the dead girl or her family or, to stick my neck out, to Yo Yo. He must be clubbed with other representations of female gender in pop culture – not the rapists.

Contemporary item songs are being attacked and how. They are hardly the worst offenders in manifesting warped gender roles. Mala Sinha from Anpad being servile and singing –“aapki nazron ne samjha pyaar ke kabil, ae meri dhadkan sambhal ja mil gayi manzil mujhe” (Your eyes have considered me worthy of love, be still my beating heart I have found my destination) was for me more regressive than a “Chipka le fevicol se”. A woman projecting her sexuality is not by itself regressive or submissive, it can be done as an equal. Amorous sexuality by itself does not have a gender bias. At least one can dance to a“Munni badnaam hui” – and dancing is always a good idea.

Having women merely as props to make the man look powerful or better, started way before Yo Yo wrote his lyrics. It was a rotten system right at the outset as soon as an attractive, intelligent woman was expected to fall in love with Rajendra Kumar or Joy Mukherji! And it’s not even like they can dance.

Sharmila Tagore in Mausam or Mala Sinha in Anpad, suffering in silence and absorbing the “zulm” and not saying an “Aah” was standard. Film after film, from black-and-white to technicolour, has seen the oh-so-hurt hero hold back, hold back, he can’t, the dam of patience bursts and he slaps the leading lady. Cut to close-up of woman. No she doesn’t slap back or crush his gonads with a kick. She runs out as the background of the stock sitar music plays. Usually a sad “tum jo laga lo gale to ho jaye jeewan safal aur main ban jaun tumhare paon ki dhool” type song follows. And there’s almost never any dancing in the post-slap tragic song. Which is never a good thing.

Ever noticed advertisements from tea to insurance policies in which the ideal happy family has the husband addressing the wife as “Tum” and she addressing him as “Aap”?  Roles established, Woman = tu or tum. Man = aap.

Even animations for kids fall into the same trap. The indoctrination starts very early. Way before we learn to dance to item songs. Chota Bheem, an animation series hugely popular with kids above 3 years of age, establishes the protagonist and other boys as the alphas.  Males only. The body language has his legs spread wide striking a dominant pose of entitlement. The female buddy sits wide-eyed, making offerings of food stuff and running off here and there to ensure Chota Bheem is comfy until he needs to save her. Girl – servile and obedient, boy – dominant and protective, that’s what our kids are learning. Film after film, animation after animation. By the time they’re grooving to Yo Yo, the dynamic is imprinted in their minds. If anyone thinks there is any other learning from these animations – no. And it’s not like there is any dancing either. Teaching kids to dance is always a good idea.

Not restricted to TV and film, the more accomplished books and authors are just as guilty. Jagdish Bhagwati’s book, “In Defense of Globalization” has a bizarre bit where Dr Manmohan  Singh’s favourite Padma Vibhushan-decorated economist tries to explain incentives and outcomes in economic models with a parallel between good sex and good food between husband and wife. It’s a ludicrous argument that proposes the paradox that good sex by a man in exchange for good food that the woman cooks for him has a reward-incentive relationship. I know I’m making it sound vague and idiotic. For the comprehensive and idiotic version read Bhagwati’s book. His contribution to economic discourse has been predictable, and to gender-sensitivity suspect. I’ve never seen him dance, but am not expecting much.

Basically, my point is that the roles attributed to genders are all around us in ways big and small, silly and profound and the battle to fix that is wider and deeper than the rape outrage. Yo Yo being the punching bag for it is unwise not because Yo Yo is an innocent nice boy (he’s probably a primitive, chauvinistic gabru jawan who I probably won’t like, even though he can dance), but because he is not Ram Singh and the other five brutal murderers.

A Clockwork Orange, Mad Max, the Conan series have all been the staple of many in my generation and myself. To infer those somehow warped our mind and made rapists or misogynists of us is a position that cannot be convincingly defended. I’ve also watched Dirty Dancing, Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Tezaab. And boy did the women celebrating their sexuality with gay abandon make you want to dance. No, not hurt or maim or outrage – just dance. Which is always a good thing.

Trashing Sheila Dikshit for dancing at the Honey concert is totally unfair. She pretty much had no clue as to what a Honey Singh is, let alone be aware of his song lyrics. There are 100 better reasons to trash Sheila Dikshit. She’s been a status quo-ist all her political life, the product of a self-serving system she has worked hard to maintain. But to attack her for dancing? Come now. At least she clapped in beat and displayed rhythm and grace with moves even if not like Jagger, but still nice. That’s never a bad thing, especially for a Chief Minister.

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  • that is a great analysis- bollywood has a history of representing warped gender politics. it stems from a darker place than the honey singhs of the world who are basically just screaming for attention in an already perverse world. so why the hell not? why do expletives shock people when there are far worse things to be shocked about in society today. I do believe clockwork orange is an absolutely apt film when it comes to understanding crime and punishment in terms of violence that is sexual in nature. Our Media and “civil” society reaction has been castration, death penalty etc.. isn’t that as perverse as honey singh screaming “choot?” i think society needs to take a long hard look at itself and slowly try to grow out of this “men are from mars, women are from Venus” syndrome. Which pits men against women and women against men in almost all kinds of scenarios, an entire culture exists glorifying the differences between the sexes in a competitive way. to achieve balance in society, with rage, violence, gender and discrimination one needs to recognize that androgynous nature of human beings without labeling it and attaching sexual connotations to everything, our mass repressions need to be directed in a manner to create this phenomena in society, merely debating it wont help. and unfortunately the responsibility lies entirely in the hands of the mainstream media including mainstream film and television, to present a balanced and responsible message. The govt. is no good as usual. i want to hear manmohan or sonia or sushma say “sex” without gasping and then we can hope to talk.

  • Newslaundry Fan

    WHY WHY WHY can Newslaundry not get an editor to review and edit Mr. Sekhri’s writing. He does, on rare occasions, have some valid points to make. But always, it’s terrible writing which reads like a rant. Please do something about this, Madhu. You did not let him do any interviews after the Tavleen Singh disaster. Time has come to do that again with his writing.

    • raj

      b’coz he is the editor, moron.

    • Keep Calm :)

      Simmer down and quit the hyperbole. I found this piece rather entertaining. There you go, one against one.

    • Another Newslaundry Fan

      Completely agree. NL should not publish his mindless and poor writing. Sekhri “columns” read like silly banter. He may be editor or whatever, but there has to be a way to stop him from ruining NL.

  • It’s not about equating Honey Singh with the recently
    popular Delhi rape case. The case has started a kind of revolution wherein
    women and men alike (even if it sounds like the reinforcement of binaries),
    after decades; extensively, are pointing fingers at various factors that have
    led to the recent incident. They are showing an unprecedented inclination
    towards making society equally safe for women (obviously the society is the
    problem of the ’solution too’). It is within this movement that a lot of
    questions and debates have arisen. Stopping at Honey Singh would be incorrect. At
    the cost of sounding overly optimistic, this movement could lead to a fruitful
    beginning of an impending and imminent dialogue that gender issues deserve,
    with a base in gender related theories, along with the discussion on the
    contemporary economic culture that kills humane in the human. It should be the
    beginning of a comprehensive dissection of media that objectifies woman,
    carefully Avoiding Sexually Repressive tendencies. Just because nobody found the
    servile projection of women problematic in the 50s, 60s… shouldn’t mean we cannot
    question it ever. It has to start somewhere, why not with Honnneey Singh. As I
    said, it shouldn’t end right here.

  • Abhinandan, just because no one questioned old Bollywood movies doesn’t mean we cannot question misogynist media content now. I am keen to see your reaction when someone plays Honey Singh’s song in a bus in front of any of your female relatives and misbehaves with them. Honey Singh is one of the most egregious example of “normalization” of rape. I agree with you about Sheila Dixit’s criticism. The woman probably did not even know who Honey Singh was.

  • NL rocks!!

    Well !! Guys this is like a good one by Sekhri….C’mon can’t u see the difference between a BRUTAL GANG-RAPE and the lyrics used by YO YO HONEY SINGH ?? Honey Singh is just like any despo from Punjab who dreams to be a singer and there he is…why his fan following?? probably there are people like us who do not understand what his songs are and still shake their ass on YO YO’s numbers that are truly pathetic and portray the fact that the guy has no respect for the female counterpart……..please criticize him for the true reason just the way Sekhri has done…..