Weaponsing Music

Joydip Ghosal

“Yet in the country of Bismillah Khan and M S Subbulakshmi, Kishori Anankar and Kishore Kumar, music has become an artefact of right-wing propaganda, a vehicle of vindictiveness and violence”.–Ramachandra Guha

Away from the watchful monitoring of electronic and print media, across India’s dusty and sleepy towns a genre of popular culture is clandestinely seizing the public imagination. Acerbic lyrics laced with vitriolic hatred, foot tapping music and songs along with kavisanmelans are shaping the discourse in the hinterland resulting in the formation of the bedrock of jingoism. Kunal Purohit’s path breaking ground level research book H–POP, the secretive world of Hindutva pop stars, published by Harper Collins Publishers India unravels the tapestry of the culture that fosters rift and division. With gripping narrative and in-depth research he lays bare the vitriolic agenda which permeates through the crevice of society. Kunal Purohit has been a journalist for two decades. As an independent journalist he reported extensively on hate crimes, the rise of hyper-nationalism in the country. Through their words these pop stars, poets, social media influencers try to dehumsnise religious minorities and dissenters. Majoritarian ideology intertwined with hate- filled agenda hurls a significant challenge to syncretic culture and pluralistic ethos. According to Bilal Gani this book presents a captivating exploration into the intricate relationship between Hindutva ideology and realm of popular culture.

Hindutva pop music has emerged as all- pervasive ingeniously extension of Hindutva campaign. Though these songs are little recognised they tend to normalise some of the hard-line elements of the Hindu nationalist ideology. These are so hardline that even the most strident votaries hesitate to vet the stances overtly. These lyrics are laced with threats of mayhem and macabre violent reprisal. They dehumsnise the ‘other’. These music seeks to reinforce the stereotypes by perpetuating inauthentic images. Deep-rooted fear, anger and hate filled campaigns tend to accentuate the pernicious feelings. These are combustible combination. With in- depth research and extensive field work the author shows that there are growing links between aggressive gestures and consuming hate music. It fuels violence. Kunal Purohit cited several research and studies to put forth this cogent argument. The founder of the group Life after Hate Arno Michaelis said that more than entertaining hate music did a lot more thing. “If you are playing white power music… you are learning how to hate people and you are practising emotional violence against them.” This is not only applicable to white supremacy only. Rather it acts to instigate violence and indoctrinate various hues of ultra-nationalists. In his path breaking book Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War author Jonathan Pieslac shows how American soldiers listened to rap and heavy metal music. That acted as inspiration to combat enemies. According to Pieslac it facilitated a 'state of mind that was necessary for killing. Kunal Purohit briefly discussed the experience of Rwandan genocide to illustrate the point. For over three months in 1994 the majoritarian Hutu community along with police, military went on a killing spree against the Tutsi people. Every Tutsi became their prey. More than 800000 people lost their lives in the gory genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal established by International Security Council probed the breach of international law and attempted to prosecute the perpetrators. It operated for twenty one years and convicted ninety three people for the genocide. Prime Minister of the interim government Jean Kambanda was also indicted. But, according to the author an unlikely inclusion in the list of indicted figures was the song writer and singer Simon Bikindi. In pre- genocide Rwanda that popularity earned him the moniker ‘Rwanda’s Michael Jackson.’ But his music fanned the hate against the Tutsis’. Three political songs laced with hatred played many times a day on Radio Television Libre des Milles Collins. That radio station was solely operated by Hutu community. Through his songs he valourised the past deeds committed by Hutu community and portrayed the Tutsi community as demons. He tried to stoke fear among the Hutu community. He was charged with six counts: genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public enticement to commit genocide, murder as a crime against humanity and persecution as a crime against humanity. Apart from this Bikindi was an official in the Rwandan government’s Ministry of Youth and Sports. The charges against him specified how his lyrics manipulated the history and politics of Rwanda to promote Hutu solidarity. Kunal Purohit also drew our attention to neighbouring Myanmar. There songs containing hate- filled lyrics targeted the Rohingyas. These songs reiterate that Buddhist people were under severe threat from Muslims. Needless to say these songs conditioned the psychological ambience conducive to pogrom. These inflammatory songs demonised the others. Heather Maclachlan conducted an in- depth research on the hate music and anti-Muslim propaganda in Myanmar. He said “these songs are inciting persecution of Muslim people in Myanmar, and that the creators and distributors of the songs are therefore complicit in the ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence…”. Kunal Purohit stated unequivocally India’s hate songs are strikingly similar in terms of intent and content.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 deals with killer beats, poison laced words: Kavi Singh. Part 2 is about weaponising poetry: Kamal Agney and Part 3 is titled as Fighting a Cultural War: Sandeep Deo. He spent over three years interacting with the protagonists of the book. The genesis of the book can be traced back to Gumla in 2019 where the author heard a tragic incident of killing a Muslim youth Mohamed Shalik in Soso village about 4 km away from Gumla in 2017. That incident propelled the author to research about this genre of music which targeted every dissenter, every critic, rival politicians. In district after district similar incidents were unfolding. Mobs were goaded into rampage. The incident of Gumla was not an isolated incident. The author delved deeper to unspool the intricate maze and interact with its creators. What motivated the audience to consume daily doses of bigotry prodded the author to undertake this journey.

Kavi Singh is a Hindutva pop star. She composed some songs that reflected the core belief of Hindu nationalism. According to the author her songs revolved around the major moot point of Hindu right wing circle.
Kamal Agney’s poetry revolves around the cause of Hindutva. According to the author he dehumsnises and stoke anger against the enemies of Hindutva. The imagined enemies of Hindutva ranged from political critics of BJP to bunch of students who stridently fought against this regime.

Sandeep Deo is the founder of publishing house called Kapot. He grants legitimacy to some of the deepest biases and fears that Hindu nationalists hold.

Traditional media outlets also come under attack from them. Prime Minister himself coined the term ‘News traders’. Kunal Purohit mentioned the book The Art of Conjuring Alternate Realities by Shivam Shankar Singh and Anand Venkatanarayanan. They closely analysed the Trump’s presidential campaign of 2016. The traditional media houses that were critical of Trump came under heavy attack. “Such attack helped reduce the legitimacy of these media outlets and took the sting out of their investigations against Trump.” Vitriolic rhetoric along with insidious propaganda helps the free flowing of disinformation. The author shows how this has facilitated the process to delegitimise any criticism that emanates from traditional media.

This book takes people into the inner and outer aspects of these characters and one concur with the view of Aakar Patel that like Klemperer in 1930s Purohit documents the everyday degeneration and brutality being injected into New India. While discussing the book Christophe Jaffrelot said “Kunal Purohit educates people on the long- term implications of what is not a saffron wave only.” Here lies the importance of this book because this hate-filled pernicious culture has acquired a social dimension by creeping into different strata of multi- dimensional society.

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Vol 56, No. 46, May 12 - 18, 2024