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The Balatkaari Phenomenon

Posted: January 4, 2013

Kalpana Misra is one of the two women who started the petition on change.org, asking the manager of Bristol hotel, Gurgaon, not to have rapper Honey Singh perform on New Year’s Eve

Warning: This post contains quotes with objectionable language.

The furor from the cancelled Honey Singh concert refuses to die down and the rapper is being discussed ad nauseam. It’s clearly an attempt to discuss to death a trivial issue instead of focusing on the real changes that are needed.

On the 30th of December 2012 a friend, Neha Kaul Mehra, drew my attention to the New Year’s Concert planned at the Bristol Hotel featuring Honey Singh. Honey Singh is an extremely popular phenomenon, a rap artist whose YouTube videos were the most searched for item in 2012.

Yo Yo – as he is known, sings a song “Main Hoo Balatkaari ” (I am a rapist) that he says he hasn’t written – now that the eyes of enraged women are upon him, completely missing the point, as Arnob Goswami pointed out – that he has sung it many times over. Main Hoo Balatkari “was like waving a red rag at a bull for me and, as it turned out, for countless others as well. As a woman I never condone rape. As a woman in today’s India where we are dealing with the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape, I felt a burning need to draw attention to his song.

Of course, the Delhi gang rape highlighted a condition that is as old as time. The sense of ever present danger, the certainty of being stalked, leered at, groped, commented upon if not sexually abused, that Indian women of all ages feel everywhere in India but nowhere as intensely as in Delhi is no longer a secret. Press reports of rapes all over the nation are now pouring in daily and you will have noticed – there are often three or more hideous rapes reported on a single day. Rape on a 9 month old, rape on a 45 year old, rape on an 88 year old, rape in the cities, rape in the villages – rape everywhere. It isn’t as though there’s been a spike in the number of rape cases. There has simply been a huge increase in the number of cases reported. Journalists don’t usually consider rape interesting news, because it is such a common occurrence. It is newsworthy right now because of the gut wrenching damage to the woman nicknamed Damini.

Honey Singh sings another ‘marvelous’ song – “ Choot”( roughly translated to Cunt) which is about raping a 16 year old girl. Read the lyrics at the link here.

“And suddenly you know it’s time to start something now and trust the magic of beginnings,” says Meister Eckhart and we started a petition on Change.org – a petition to the manager of the Bristol Hotel asking him not to hold the Honey Singh concert on New Year’s Eve.

I have walked along the roads of Delhi with hundreds of women to protest against rape every day. We were mourning the death of innocence in a nation where it’s no longer possible to pretend that women are safe. Something had to be done about a man who proudly proclaimed ‘Main Hoo Balatkari’.

The petition did what it was meant to – draw attention to the culture of rape that’s prevalent in our society. It’s true that Honey Singh is not the only offender, as so many people on twitter and Facebook have pointed out – but Honey Singh is as good a place to start as any. We have to begin somewhere, and it isn’t possible to fight the entire war in one battle.

The main aim in starting the petition was to draw attention to the devaluing of women in our country where the Hindi movie industry with its item numbers, its objectification of women into the old stereotypes of Madonna or Whore ( Madonna being the chaste wife, mother, sister) is a huge contributor towards perpetrating the image of women as playthings for men.

We have started to look at everything with a magnifying glass.

Our ‘fault’ as women is that we have taken too much, and for too long. We have “let it go”, “been dignified”, accepted “it isn’t cool”. The trivialization of rape is very real in India. It is by ‘being chilled out ’ about songs such as these that our world is increasingly being taken over by misogynistic sentiments where men who know nothing about the terror of rape talk and sing about it as though it’s sexually titillating. Let’s remember that rape is not about sex – it’s about violence, it’s about power, it’s about subjugating women. There is nothing sexual about rape.

The petition to the GM of the Bristol Hotel was signed by over 2500 people in less than 24 hours. It went viral on Twitter, news channels showed great interest in it (because it was so topical) and despite the short notice the show was cancelled.

Honey Singh is simply a symbol – there are many other aspects of our culture that we need to tackle as well. However, considering that we had barely twenty four hours to get signatures for the petition were hugely successful in making rape culture a talking point through the nation. It goes to show the mood of the times that the petition did lead to the cancellation of the show.

The question I’m actually asking myself is – how come Honey Singh has been around for such a long time and yet nothing has been said or done about him? How have we let things get so out-of-hand? It’s because we live in an environment that demeans women and asks those very women to participate in the act of putting down others of their gender with the suggestion that they are not cool enough if they don’t. Deeply influenced by the opinions of their boyfriends and husbands, unsure of themselves, raised to accept the prevailing male viewpoint, women who support Honey Singh jive to his songs, suppress their discomfort and “xan’t even understand” his lyrics ( a young TV soap actor from Kyuki Saas say this on NDTV in an attempt to defend Yo Yo and his freedom to express himself). Not even the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit knew what Honey Singh sang – she’s danced with the man as you can see in the YouTube video. Our woman Chief Minister, who is such a shining example of a leader upholding women’s rights.

An unfortunate fallout of the petition has been the filing of an FIR against Honey Singh for lewd lyrics. As usual, a protest about women’s rights has been hijacked by someone with vested interests, thus steering what was essentially a victory for women to the the dangerous place of suppression of speech. That’s not what we were aiming at; censorship is objectionable. As a woman I boycott Honey Singh’s songs. Today it’s Yo Yo with his horrid songs, tomorrow it could be another artist. In any case Rap is a problematic art form especially for feminists seeing as how misogyny is hip-hop’s cardinal sin.

However – your freedom to say and do what you want can’t impact my freedom. And as long as rapists roam the street and are incubated in the nurturing environment of rape culture my freedom as a woman is greatly compromised. And that I do not accept. I will go where I want, when I want, wearing what I want. I will speak when I want and I will demand all this – however ‘undignified’ it may seem.

A freelance journalist and teacher, Kalpana is a feminist, an animal rights activist, passionate about

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  1. women in general and Indian women in particular do not really know to stand up for themselves as well as for other women. We generally read or hear about a rape case and thank our stars that it was not anyone known to us that was victimized. A sister or sister in law is abused by her husband and we take pride in declaring that our own husbands are caring souls and at best offer lip sympathy to the victim. We are the ones who are quick to discuss the possible causes of a failed marriage and more often than not we blame the woman for not rising to the expectations of society. It is time for introspection and as the first step let us stop criticizing women who defy unacceptable social norms and stand up for themselves.

    • You’ve made a very relevant point Hip Grandma. It’s attitudinal change that’s needed – it’s important to try and put yourself in another person’s shoes instead of gloating over your own good fortune.

  2. I’m truly glad that Indian women everywhere are seeing how they need to “say no” if they want to take charge of their lives, their bodies and why not, their destinies.

  3. I salute you for your efforts……

  4. Meenu Nageshwaran -

    Thank you Kalpana for all your efforts….

  5. Thanks Kalpana…You are a ray of hope in this otherwise careless society..

  6. I dont think the balatkaari song is by Honey Singh. But his other songs are equally offensive. Like the one called choot (cunt).

  7. I sincerely agree with you on every point you have put forward. The question that actually aries is how come the Indian Janta have become so apathetic to issues like rape. Largely due to the fact because we women do not make a hue and cry about it. The fault lies in our culture and upbringing where we are taught to shun any attention seeking act. Can a random girl from a chawl freely get together women in her neighbourhood to fend off eve-teasers in the area? Women know the atrocoities happening in and around them, but many are desensitised to the situations a they would not like any attention on them, also the general mode of thinking is that if it is not happening to them, it is not their problem. There is a desperate need for women to organise themselves in every nook and corner and support their sisters. And that goes to even celebrities, they need to toe the line, set some individual standards or get rapped by such groups to tone their actions in any kind of media We women have to take the step ahead!

  8. Pingback: Petitioning for change: Indians turn to online petitions to protest Delhi gang rape | India at LSE

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