A song for a song
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So, we decided to write a song not to mourn her death, but to celebrate her spirit. And thus the song, "Maa nee Meri" was created by Swaang (available at http://goo.gl/ADFsa). The song was created as a protest song, as a song of defiance, addressed to the mother, not just as a mother, but as a woman, a daughter, a wife, a sister and a victim. The idea was to begin by problematising the culture of silent suffering and sacrifice that is valorised, romanticised and idealised in India as a strength inherent to women. We also questioned a culture of parenting that teaches fear, submissiveness, obedience and precaution as virtues, thereby silently transferring the onus of a crime onto the victim. This girl would not remain silent, she would speak out, fight, drown, but not swim obediently with the tide of patriarchal norms ("Maa nee meri mitti moorat, main nee goonga patthar banana").
The song looked beyond the perpetrators and rapists as those obviously responsible for such crimes. It laid responsibility on the larger public, on citizens, families, lawmakers, law keepers, keepers of faith and morality. It indicted all of us, "un chhey mein shaamil tum bhi thhey, yeh kaam toh hai hamdardon ka (You were amongst those six, this is the doing of well wishers)", for being callous, complacent and comfortable in the security of our drawing rooms, for thinking "better safe than sorry", for not fighting. We also tried to reflect a historical imagination about violence against women in our country and thus made references to 1984, 1992 and 2002; an acknowledgement that at each historical moment of public turmoil and conflict, women were victimised.
Finally, we conclude the song with the reminder that rape is not death. That even the idea of rape being the effective end of the life of the victim is deeply problematic. This understanding of rape reduces the entire existence and individuality of women to "jism ke dhaai inchon mein (two-and-a-half inches of the body)", and is precisely the logic that perpetrators function on when they choose to rape women to "teach them a lesson" or "show them their place". This notion is the cornerstone of any patriarchal understanding of women and is so widespread in our society that it is reflected in popular culture again and again, the most recently controversial of which has been Punjabi singer Honey Singh's grossly offensive music, such as the song "C***t".
Ours is a world where art is in thrall to the logic of markets. Any sensational, shock-value laden "product" that trades in existing stereotypes will be successful. This is a perverse culture that renders the role of the artist in a society obsolete by turning the artist into a vendor. Art must never be empty, instant entertainment. Because art, by looking beyond the obvious, can channel collective angst into a more constructive expression that can create a positive change.This is why the artist has a responsibility to oppose regressive works parading as popular culture. And thus, in the context of a land where violence against women is endemic, art that celebrates sexism and misogyny and glorifies masculinity in its most brutal form is regressive and ought to be questioned.
For every "C***t", we must create songs that celebrate and remember that "she" fought. That she was one and they were six but afraid she was not ("Vekh maayi nee main lad ke aayi, kalli o chhey par na darr ke aayi"). We must continue to fight, to challenge, to protest. Because only then will we be able to move from a perverse misogynist culture to one that empowers, both in art and in life.
Ravinder Randhawa and is a Mumbai-based screenwriter. Swara Bhaskar is a Mumbai-based actor
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