Buoyed by the government’s systematic plan to disenfranchise sections of the Muslim population by branding them unauthorised citizens, oftentimes these singers explicitly threaten Muslims to leave India and go to Pakistan
“THE rule of Ram will come back in India.” Images of Ram, one of the main deities of Hinduism in the backdrop, a song is aired full blast. Singer Varun Bahar draped in saffron-coloured tunic and trousers, boasts about the valour of chest-thumping Hindutva followers. “Those who refuse to chant Jai Sri Ram will be buried alive.”
This three-minute Bhojpuri video song on YouTube encapsulates the message of the new genre of music that has become a rage in parts of northern India. Bahar is one of the many singers of this new genre of pop music championing a toxic Hindutva nationalistic ideology rooted in the urge for the exclusion of others.
The fast beats of the music enthrall the audience and set them on a dance to the accompanying tunes while the content explicitly spews hatred against Muslims. The genre has found significant resonance among large sections of the Hindu population in the Hindi heartland. On YouTube, the views on the videos can go above a million.
India is at the 15th position on a global scale on music consumption, according to IFPI ranking.
One of the recurring themes in the lyrics in such songs is incitement to sexual violence against Muslim women of Kashmir and Pakistan. This is happening at a time when sections in India led by the ruling right-wing Hindutva forces are set on the path of changing the secular fabric of the country.
Early August, when the government abolished the special Constitutional protection to Jammu and Kashmir and opened the doors to non-locals to buy property in the “disputed” region, celebratory rallies were held across the country even as Kashmir valley was put under a curfew and a general crackdown as also detention of political leaders and activists. Songs appeared on social media celebrating the lecherous idea that Hindu men can now marry fair-skinned Kashmiri Muslim women.
Pakistan bashing has become a favourite pastime for large sections of the Indian media. The unchecked hatred has set a ripple effect in motion, releasing music videos openly inciting violence action against Pakistan. One such song available on YouTube openly encouraged sexual violence against burka-clad Pakistani women. The sexist lyrics of the song reduced Pakistani women to commodities to be forcefully brought to India by the Hindu men.
Over the past several months, the internet saw a surge in songs from these singers, calling on Hindus to rise up for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. This went in line with the election promises of the right-wing Hindu nationalist political parties. “Ayodhya belongs to Ram and we will get a Ram’s temple constructed there,” Sandeep Acharya, a popular singer of the genre, yelled in one of his songs.
For right-wing parties, the construction of Ram temple at the site of Babri Masjid has been a rallying cry in all general elections since the early 80s. Over the last few years, these parties have used music to complement their campaigns. Naturally, these musicians are much-sought-after by local politicians. In fact, Sandeep Acharya, one of the many such singers, claimed in an interview to the Quint that he was the district head of the party of Yogi Aditya Nath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. They get paid for performing in these rallies.
More than that, musicians claim that they earn revenue in hundreds of thousands, generated by the huge viewership they get from India’s 250 million YouTube users.
On the 10th of November, a day after the Supreme Court delivered the much-awaited Ayodhya verdict, clearing the way for construction of a temple at the site of Babri Masjid, the Janta Musical and Pictures, a verified YouTube channel, released a four-and-a-half-minute video hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and deity Ram.
Buoyed by the government’s systematic plan to disenfranchise sections of the Muslim population by branding them unauthorised citizens, oftentimes these singers explicitly threaten Muslims to leave India and go to Pakistan. The translation of the title of one song is, ‘Muslims will scream Lord Ram’s name’. The song goes on to say, “Since we have to build the Ram temple, we should beat up Muslims and throw them out.”
In some cases even if the lyrics are not outrightly provocative, the imagery used projects Muslims as enemies.
Indian Constitution does not discriminate among people on the basis of their religion and there are laws that prevent incitement to hatred and violence against communities. Yet, the dissemination of hate-filled music goes unchecked and has become a trend now. Even the editorially regulated music streaming sites have at times hosted such kind of music.
Anas Tanweer, a human rights lawyer who runs Indian Civil Liberties Union, wrote to the Home department weeks before the Ayodhya verdict, seeking a ban on songs and videos inciting “hatred against communities and threatening the integrity of the country.” He pinpointed three music videos that directly incited violence and hatred against the Muslim community and sought their ban. He appealed to the authorities to arrest and take legal action “artists” making such songs.
“There wasn’t any response from the government to the letter,” Tanweer said, adding, “However, a few FIR’s were registered in Uttar Pradesh.”
What explains the rise of such music filled with venomous hate is a topic for several Ph.D. studies. Popular culture is a reflection of the social setup we live in. “If we have hurtled ourselves on a hate path, then this is what we will hear — the echo of our hate,” says actor Danish Husain, who is a well-known Dastango and recently appeared in Bard of Blood, a Netflix series.
“[If art] is violating the universally agreed human tenets, instigating and amplifying bigotry and violence, then we have a problem at our hand.”
Over the last few years, the democratic world order has taken a right-wing shift. With the ascendance of Modi to the pedestal of power, India has seen a sharp spike in mob violence against Muslims. There have been instances when Muslims have been lynched for refusing to chant Jai Shri Ram. The menace has engulfed the country to a level that there often are instances of mob violence against marginalized communities. The consequence of hate is not just manifested in acts of lynching but also in pedantic ways in normal day-to-day routine. of late the instance stories of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims in office spaces, in renting apartments, in choosing cab driver has become frequent. “These songs are further contributing to the communal violence,” Said Shefali Gautam, a Delhi based publicist. “The main purpose of these songwriters is to escalate hatred amidst the people.”
Observers credit the internet to an extent for its rise. Owing to its unregulated nature, it empowers the people to express themselves freely. “Social media has played a catalytic role in this process since they are unregulated and not subject to editorial controls,” Arvind Rajagopal who is a professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University said in an interview with Caravan Daily. “Given the existence of trolls organized and paid for by political parties, we can assume there is a similar orchestrated production of hate music also, until it is proven otherwise. This kind of political experiment is powered by “free” markets, the latest technology, and overseen by formally democratic institutions.”
Rajagopal says that short-term gains and ideological blinders prevent the key actors from thinking hard about the implications of turning the world’s 2nd largest Muslim population into a series of ghettos and camps.