"We Deserve Better": JNU Student Group Launches Campaign Against Playing Sexist Songs In Campus
In the era that’s boasts of ‘girl power’, jamming to sexist lyrics coiled around catchy beats seldom sets off an alarm in the brains of young millennial. The high voltage grooves of patriarchal songs that objectify women were recently thrown off by the girls of ‘Godavari Hostel’, Jawahar Lal University (JNU) at their Cultural and DJ Night held on March 29 and March 31 respectively. Students of Godavari hostel started a campaign called ‘Dekho magar consent se (Look, but with consent)’, a powerful conversation to disinfect popular culture from stale patriarchal stench to make entertainment a space where women can participate and involve as dignified and equal individuals instead of mere ‘lollipops’ and ‘tandoori murgi’ (tandoori chicken). “JNU me waise to naari shakti ki baatein hoti hai, lekin cultural night ate hi sab naariyan lollipop ban jaati hai (There is always conversation around women empowerment in JNU but they are reduced to mere lollipops in cultural nights)”, read the campaign poster. In an exclusive interview with The Logical Indian, JNU’s GSCASH representative Swati Simha, PhD Scholar Abhiruchi Ranjan, JNUSU General Secretary Aejaz Rather and other students part of the campaign gives insightful details that reopens a discourse to de-stabilize female objectification solidified in our culture as the norm.
Culture of Rape and Harassment
“Seeti bajaye beech sadak mein (whistling/catcalling in the middle of the street, in reference to popular Hindi song) is something working women face every day as street harassment but it is shown as part of women’s imagination of fun,” said Abhiruchi Ranjan, PhD Scholar at JNU. She continues, “Find one woman whose fantasy is that she gets harassed on the streets by a guy. It is, therefore pretty obvious that the song has been written by a guy who thinks street harassment is ‘fun’.” Swati Simha, Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) representative untangles the idea of “why rape is more a culture” to those who think sexism as a social evil is still debatable. She says, “The point is not that by listening to sexist numbers, one will go out and rape. The point is such these songs address the culture where it is normalized. It normalizes to look, feel and think in a certain way about women and completely disregard the consent. This is where our campaign ‘dekho magar consent se’ happens to come about.”
“Unfortunately, even in a place like JNU where students are politically aware, active and assertive, how is it that we are hostile to the banning of songs that equate women to lollipop and tandoori murgi,” adds Abhiruchi.
The “No Playlist”
Girls of Godavari hostel came up with a ‘No Playlist’ to be handed over to the DJ of the cultural nights. The ‘No Playlist’ comprises a list of all such songs that objectify women or are in any way sexist. Some of those songs that University girls feel are sexist and shouldn’t be played are ‘fevicol se’, ‘choli ke peeche kya hai’, and even ‘classic’ Bollywood numbers like ‘chane ke khet me’. Some Bhojpuri songs popular across the campus on DJ nights included in the list are ‘Lollipop’ and ‘Tani sa jeans’.
The idea behind the ‘No Playlist’ according to the students behind the campaign is to push out male favourites that resonate with male viewpoint (mostly predatory) while completely obliterating the women’s perspective. It disregards and to an appalling degree dismisses the voice or say of a woman. Bollywood mostly depicts women as a meek, submissive entitlement of men. A coy woman who happily obliges to a man’s predatory fetishes has always been a more validated, worthy of acceptance ‘femme’ figure in the Hindi film industry, a major cultural influence. “Most of such songs are written and sung by male artists and only performed by women. Men, disregarding any purview of women become the part of the ideation and take over the creative part of singing while the girl gets to be a prop, an object of release,” says Abhiruchi Ranjan in an exclusive interview with The Logical Indian.
The think tank behind the ‘No Playlist’ campaign reached out to the GSCASH, represented by Swati Simha who along with other members of the GSCASH issued a statement sensitizing people. Post this, a conversation around gender sensitivity took a more serious turn and observed the involvement of a number of concerned students. The discussion over what comprises sexist songs was carried out in several rounds. The discussion went on to investigate the difference between ‘reference to sex’ and ‘sexism’, a normalization of patriarchal stereotypes in popular culture and songs. The campaign took off post this discourse among thinking student. Godavari girls, within a little time, released the ‘Dekho magar consent se poster’ which was not very well received by the free speech crusaders of convenience.
Swati, representative of GSCASH said that after the Godavari girls reached out to them, the committee has been trying to find out ways to sensitize the issue for which they also turned to the other hostels but the responses were lukewarm. “GSCASH has been working to make public spaces more accessible to women. It has not been easy especially after it formally got dismantled. We really appreciate the efforts of students who have been relentlessly trying to do something in that respect,” said Swati. Abhiruchi, on the other hand, told us that the situation is so grim that it was not even possible to convince boys hostel (Mahi Mandvi and Kaveri hostels) to “ban a song that reduces women’s body to a phallic metaphor lollipop”.
Upon enquiry, president of Kaveri hostel said that they are not against the campaign but he is also not in favour of banning all Bhojpuri songs. He made no effort whatsoever to ban the song ‘Lollipop’. On being asked if he does see anything problematic or sexist about the song ‘Lollipop’, he only said, “Never thought about it.” He continues, “I can’t mention all the parameters upon which I decide that the song is sexist. I appreciate the initiative taken by the girls which is why I decided to not play several songs on DJ that ‘clearly indicates sexism’ like ‘tani sa jeans’.”
GSCASH representative Swati said that in fact there were also many women who did not come out in support saying “every song is sexist, don’t make a big deal out of it”. She says that it is fearful to exist at a place where people seem to enjoy such lyrics.
Quashing of GSCASH, demand of the students association to bring down ICC
The administration of JNU has quashed the GSCASH and placed an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) on its place. ICC governed by the administration has been in constant controversy for further harassing the complainants of sexual harassment by barring them from the University. It is also infamous for giving clean chit to Atul Johri who had multiple #metoo allegations in his name.
In conversation with Aejaz Ahmad Rather, General Secretary of Jawahal Lal Nehru Students Union (JNUSU), we get an insight on the battle between GSCASH and ICC and their struggle to ensure a safe campus, free from any kind of harassment. But ICC has been a limiting body to achieve this goal. He said, “From the JNUSU we are supporting this campaign of stopping sexist songs in the hostel nights. Our battle is of ensuring safe campus free from any kind of harassment.” He continues, “We are constantly fighting in the campus for bringing back GSCASH, a body that is democratic in nature, unlike the ICC that is more dictatorial. Last year the Vice-Chancellor arbitrarily dismantled the GSCASH and implemented ICC. We have done parallel elections of GSCASH and boycotted the ICC. ”
He says, “ICC from last year is continuously shielding sexual harassers like Atul Johri. In other cases as well, ICC harassed the complainants instead of giving them justice. From the JNUSU, we have done constant protests against the ICC and its decisions. Our ultimate battle is to bring back GSCASH.”
“Since the time GSCASH has been quashed as a complaint redressal body, things have been quite difficult,” said Swati, GSCASH current representative.
Sonal Kallangad, part of the poster ideation member also said, “ICC is a puppet of patriarchal administration, therefore, it is more than reasonable to dismantle it and reinstate GSCASH. Our collective struggle is against patriarchy and misogyny. It is for gender justice and social justice. We will not remain silent anymore. For half the sky and half the earth, we shall fight and win. ”
Freedom of speech and censorship
In conversation with The Logical Indian, Swati explains why the campaign is not about censorship. She says, “It’s not like literally forcing censorship upon anyone but it is really about bringing in a conversation to understand why it is so relevant and important to talk about it.” She pointed out how gender sensitive matters usually get washed aside because ‘why make a big deal out of it’.
Abhiruchi, who has been a major part of the campaign ideation expresses how “personal choices and freedoms have to align with the larger aspirations of conscious and educated people”.
The first posters ‘Dekho magar consent se’ and ‘Bura na mano consent hai’ that was brought out by the Godavari girls to protest playing of sexist and misogynist songs on the DJ nights. The attempt to backlash and dismiss the protest has been storming the way of the crusaders of equality within the campus. The Mahi Mandavi boy’s hostel stooped to another low by drawing a ‘phallic sketch’ or a ‘penis’ on the poster that simply calls for consent. As a response to this utterly shameful act, two students of JNU Sonal Kallangad and Priyanka Kale pasted a bold poster that said, “Apni frustration ko poster par nahi, apne pant ke andar hi rakho (Keep your frustration in your pants and not on the poster)”. The response poster was studded with hashtags #smashpatriarchy and #getwellsoon. A one-liner followed that said, ‘don’t remove the poster till patriarchy ends’.
Swati said, “The hope is that eventually we do not have to put out these ‘no playlist’ but the people are sensitive enough to not play these kinds of songs themselves. They are not just completely outrageous but in fact, denies spaces for women. The president of Kaveri hostel ‘did not think about it’ as he confessed on his own. However, the impact of the campaign is such that it has put even the non-thinking ones in a position where there is no option but to at least begin thinking.”
“Hope is that people are able to re-evaluate their idea of what is really fun and enjoyment and if at all it is fun and enjoyment for people who we want to actually participate with, who we want to really share the space with,” she added.
The Logical Indian Take
Equality and inclusivity of genders is still unfamiliar territory for most people in India. JNU being an advocate of equality has been unfortunately failing its own students. The Logical Indian congratulates, supports and highly admires the courage of the students to challenge the establishment and to unravel a normalized misogynist culture of entertainment.
The conversation around sexist numbers that is played all over the world in clubs and other events has to begin to take the collective conscience of humankind towards a 100% equal and inclusive society. In Abhiruchi’s words, “We deserve better”.