CW: Misogyny, homophobia, discussion of sexualized violence
Last week, Punjabi singer Ranjit Bawa released a new song called “Att toh Aant” on YouTube which is making waves on social media. The song has garnered over 2.4 million views in less than a week.
Ranjit Bawa is often viewed as a “woke” Punjabi singer and songwriter who speaks about social issues through his music.
Bawa was previously clouded in controversy last year when he released his song “Mera Ki Kasoor” which talks about caste discrimination. Many members of the ruling central party of India, BJP, criticized him, citing that his song was “anti-Hindu” & hurt the sentiments of Hindu people.
Bawa often explores harmful or backwards tropes that plague people’s lives and is often commended for utilizing his platform and talent to bring forward such conversations.
His new song “Att toh Aant” talks about the many issues that Bawa sees around the world that he believes will ultimately “end the world,” and the video is a series of images that correspond with the lyrics.
For example, when he talks about politicians, there is a cartoon of a politician being greedy and holding onto his “seat” (power) at the cost of his humanity.
However, the problem arises when Bawa says “Sanga Laah Chadiya E Heera Ne Te Ranje Garak Gye Kaama Ch,” meaning “today’s women have lost their coyness, and today’s men are full of lust and doing wrong things”.
The music video depicts photos of women and a photo of two men getting married in a Hindu ceremony.
Bawa is adding to the endless misogyny and homophobia seen in the Punjabi music industry. The three women he shows in his video are not scantily clad, in fact they are dressed in normal pants and full sleeve shirts. One woman is dressed in western clothing and is wearing a choora -- a set of bangles that a newly married woman wears to signify her recent nuptials.
The second woman is wearing a suit that is fitted to her body and is wearing bright lipstick. The third woman is wearing a casual long sleeve shirt.
It is common practice for women to wear their chooras with western clothing. Most women work and have jobs where they do not wear their cultural clothing. Why is it such a terrible thing for a woman to wear a choora with any type of clothing she wants to wear?
It seems that Bawa is implying that women who dress in fitted clothes that might accentuate their curves are “losing their shyness.” Perhaps he instead wants women to wear ill-fitting/loose suits that resemble burlap sacks and have their heads covered with a chunni (scarf) all the time.
This further perpetuates the narrative that women should be ashamed of their bodies and shouldn’t have agency over them. It is sexualizing women’s normal body parts and then blaming them for wearing regular clothing
If I saw any of these three women walking by or on Instagram, I wouldn’t think twice about it, but apparently Bawa feels that they are examples of what is wrong with the world and are adding to the “kalyug” (hell) and contributing to the world’s end.
Misogyny and rape culture are very much part of mainstream pop culture in Punjab and India as a whole. It is widely accepted to make such criticisms and commentary, and people actually commend artists for “being brave” and “calling it out.”
It is no surprise that India was ranked #2 for “Most Dangerous Countries For Women” and #9 for the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Countries for Solo Female Travelers” in 2021.
The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) of India reported in 2019 that a rape happens every 16 minutes in India. A region’s pop culture “unites the masses on ideals of acceptable forms of behavior” and these heartbreaking statistics show its impact.
Homophobia is also widely rampant in India and the conversation around LGBTQ+ rights has been a violent one. The landmark ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018 was a win for the community, but many people’s prejudiced perceptions around homosexuality still remain in tact.
According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 40% of gay men and 47% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21% of straight men.
Being forcefully married is a common punishment for LGBTQ+ folk in India, so a gay couple happily marrying one another in a religious ceremony is a very important image for the LGBTQ+ community in India, which Bawa has utilized to prove that the world is ending.
He is fueling and normalizing the hate experienced by the LGBTQ+ community by being so careless and crass. These types of songs and lyrics lead to confirmation bias and legitimize prejudice and hatred.
Bawa’s fans and supporters in the comments of the video are saying that it is only one lyric in an otherwise “woke” song, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is still extremely problematic and wrong. Whether it’s one line or an entire song, the messaging still has the same consequences.
The Punjabi music industry, which includes Ranjit Bawa, need to collectively do better and educate themselves about the prejudice they are commonly perpetuating.
About the author: Gurshabad’s educational background in Biology and Psychology is inspired by her lifelong pursuit to seek and decipher the human connection. She loves McDonald’s fries, long walks on the beach, and telling people how to correctly pronounce her name. She regularly forces her friends to sit in her car & record a podcast aptly named Sitting In The Car. You can find her but more importantly her dog, @gurshabadkang on all platforms.
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