Do we want our children singing and dancing to ‘Baby doll mien sone di’?

Published: January 27, 2015
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Even in the minds of the least prudish among us, a little girl singing, “Munni badnaam hui” sets off some kind of an alarm.

At ease, liberals, as this won’t be a furious grandparent’s rant on the corrupting influence of today’s music. This is a critical analysis of the influence of modern “item songs” on young people, without invoking a moralistic argument.

Veteran actor, Shabana Azmi, recently rebuked item songs in the following words:

“I am saying let it be an informed decision. I am not going to dictate what you should do. But be aware that when you do a song like that it is leading to the sexualisation of children and there are four-year-old girls dancing at all kinds of weddings to really bad songs.”

Stating the obvious has rarely been this controversial.

Conservatives admonish racy songs for being inconsistent with their moral values, often resorting to slut-shaming tactics. That, gratefully, is not Shabana’s argument. She’s assuming the approach of a classic feminist.

Liberals sometimes mistake the explosion of Indian and Pakistani item songs as a dawning of a sexual revolution; a way of restoring sexual rights to individuals. What we are stoking instead is a culture of objectifying women even further so that their worthiness is now measured largely by their ability to attract men.

What is basically a tool for sexual gratification is now being played on a loop at wedding parties, for uncles, grandmothers, and children to dance to. Even in the minds of the least prudish among us, a little girl singing, “Munni badnaam hui” sets off some kind of an alarm.

Item songs used to be essential to the story; performed, for instance, by a lead actress playing a courtesan at a royal enclave. Now they’re nonsensically shoved into films to boost ticket sales. The popular item song “Billi”, for example, has absolutely no relevance to the movie “Na Maloom Afraad” and appears almost disruptively in the middle of a rather grave scene.

Blushing parents rush their children out of movie theatres to escape a scene depicting a healthy sexual relationship between two consenting adults. Come Katrina Kaif gyrating among 28 men, few uncomfortable coughs are elicited.

Reason?

The first scenario is considered a social aberration, while the second is viewed as a perfect woman’s natural habitat. She’s a dream girl, an archetype, visually and behaviourally attuned to the male senses, never complaining about guys staring and groping at her to their hearts’ content; complaining is just something “whiny” and “oversensitive” women do.

From a very early age, we start drilling a toxic idea into girls’ minds that their primary gender-based responsibility is to look pretty. Not just ‘well bathed’ pretty, but plastic pretty with waists smaller that the circumferences of their heads. We flood them with images of what women are supposed to look like, and lyrics about what women are supposed to do, to gently remind them of their purpose on Earth.

Unsurprisingly, that takes a toll. Girls become obsessed with their looks far more than boys do, and as proven by the American Psychological Association (APA), experience a wide range of developmental issues. Such girls grow up lacking confidence in their clinically healthy bodies, and are more prone to depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Naturally, an adult artist has the right to create what he pleases, and an adult consumer has a right to purchase it. But it may not be completely inappropriate to put warning labels on Yo Yo Honey Singh CDs and movies featuring item songs, not too dissimilar to those on cigarette packs.

We need whatever it takes to insure that we’re better informed of the effects of such products on the society, especially on the young.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

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