Honey Singh and the Totalising Project

Asgar Qadri is a graduate student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, Colorado, USA.

Asgar Qadri

One of the fundamental problems with modern nation-state is that by its very creation and claim of being the only possible form of political community it seeks and imposes exclusion on those who don’t belong to its territorial jurisdiction. With its creation boundaries were drawn, ‘us’ and ‘them’ were created, denying those who lay outside the boundary an equal space in the moral conversations. Its creation was also the beginning of dominance of powerful over those who were considered weak. This is largely what Marx called the “totalising project” of the modern state.

This might seem an odd way to begin writing about something which is of concern here: Honey Singh and his song titled “Ch@#t.” Those who understand Hindi know that the term is extremely derogatory and condescending to women. What is more shocking is the fact that there exists music by this name which is heard and celebrated. The reason I began writing about this with something that is seemingly unrelated is because I see this kind of art, if at all it can be called art, as a part of the totalising project of man over woman in our societies. The only thing I had to change in my mind was to change the idea of state with individual, the man.

When a friend brought this to my notice I was appalled not only about the language used in the song but at the fact that abuse against women is celebrated through music, directed at young adolescent men who then begin to romanticise such abuse, and begin to consider it a source of their male power to be directed against women. After listening to the song, I began to think about the possible sources of such acts of abuse in a society, about the source of courage of a person who creates and celebrates such disrespect toward women.

The search for answer took me to the idea of totalising project. Even though man’s attempt to dominate over woman is blatantly apparent in our basic day to day social relations but seeking this dominance through language, language that is far reaching in terms of music is a masked aspect of this quest dominance. I could easily see the connection between language and power in this song. It is that patriarchal dominance that certain societies and men represent, which is the source of such abuse and courage. It is part of the totalising project that seeks to perpetuate patriarchy and dominance of man. This kind of music facilitates the process of othering, the creation of us and them; that men are superior who can direct and control such abusive music with freedom and women on the receiving end are inferior. This is part of the quest for exclusion that is inherent in patriarchy and on which it sustains.

This kind of language and music therefore facilitates this totalising project. Young men are told to celebrate condescension for women and render them to a reduced form of being. There has to be something fundamentally and terribly flawed in a social organization wherein such level of verbal abuse against women gets not only tolerated but accepted and celebrated. The question therefore becomes, how is this being allowed, how such a social condition happens to be possible where this is possible? I raise this question for the reader because I think it is only with such questions that we can understand how we came to be where we are now and is there a possibility of alternative society, with alternative men, where women are equals and any possibility of abuse toward them is eliminated. Answers to this question might be deeply historical and social, one might need to look at the genealogy to understand where and how such narratives became socially dominant in history; but all this must begin with protesting against, militantly critiquing, and rejecting attempts that consolidate this dominance and abuse in the contemporary. Honey Singh’s music belongs to a series of such attempts that we need to turn off.

Protesting against such music is also important in the larger context of violence against women and rapes that happen in and around Delhi almost every day; whether we want to raise our voice against this menace or be voyeuristic as we have been so far. Music like “Ch@#t” is dangerous and violent not only because it teaches young men to degrade women but it also encourages them to translate the degradation into practical violence. It is important that this kind of violent art is stopped and not to confuse that with blocking the freedom of expression; all freedoms, after all, should be meant to create a just society.

As a man I am ashamed and at the same time enraged that there are men who are part of such a project, who forget that by disrespecting women they denigrate themselves, because no man is an island, we are all born to our mothers.