Gurdas Maan’s incongruous bemoaning of a forsaken world

“It is as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill. The bourgeois viewpoint has never advanced beyond this antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and therefore the latter will accompany it as legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end.” (Karl Marx, Grundrisse)

“More than 50 million women have been systematically exterminated from India’s population in three generations, through the gender-specific infliction of violence in various forms, such as female feticide through forced abortions, female infanticides, dowry murders, and honor killings.” (50 Million Missing Campaign)

 

MTV Coke Studio India’s production of “Ki Banu Duniya Da” (“What is to become of our world?”) in 2015 – a reworking of an original song by Pakistani singer Sarwar Gulshan that was made popular by Gurdas Maan in 1982 – has been a huge success, both in India and across its global diaspora. To date, it has had almost 10 million views on You Tube and ranks as the most popular iTunes download from the Coke Studio India and Pakistan catalogue. In this latest version, new and revised lyrics have been added by Gurdas Maan to make the song relevant to the present-day.

Gurdas Maan is the Elvis of Punjab – a longstanding and successful, traditional Punjabi folk singer. With the population of Punjab at almost 28 million, the Punjabi diaspora of approximately 10 million is significant. In one sense, Punjab is at the nexus of globalisation and, in another sense, it is embedded within globalisation through its twentieth century history of emigration around the world. Gurdas Maan’s net worth is an estimated $50 million; in other words, he is a major individual beneficiary of the globalisation of Punjab – savvily and lucratively riding its contradictory waves. It is somewhat incongruous then that, in a global-glocal capitalist MTV production of “Ki Banu Duniya Da”, Gurdas Maan romanticises a localised idyllic past and seeks to return to this past in order to save Punjabis from the perils of globalisation (whilst, I assume, keeping his profits firmly in his pocket).

In the opening verses of “Ki Banu Duniya Da”, these are the words of wisdom on gender and sexual relations that Gurdas Maan sings:

In today’s times, romance has become frivolous / Destroying the divine concept of true love / Men date women without the intention to marry them / Where is chivalry heading? / Where is the youth heading? / Where is the beauty-struck youth heading?

Traditional embroidered costumes are disappearing / Traditional earrings are disappearing / Traditional silk stoles and robes are disappearing / Traditional veils and the veiled women are disappearing / Our traditional values are disappearing!

Oh what is to become of our world? / Only the God almighty knows

[…]

Water filled vessels once sat on your head / No one could bare the radiance of your ethereal beauty / Praises were showered upon you in every direction you traveled / Anklets embraced your feet with exaltation / But now you seem to have forgotten your own true value / Your graceful elegance is dissipating / Forgetting your old folk tunes

Oh what is to become of our world? / Only the God almighty knows

A contemporary, globalising India is witnessing a violent clash between a socially and politically resurgent, patriarchal, religious and deeply conservative ‘old India’ and a socially and politically rising, urban, educated and mobile young generation ‘new India’ – who are demanding gender and sexual freedom. This is a struggle between static and motion. Noteworthy are the post-December 16th 2012 and 2013 demonstrations against female sexual violence (after the high profile case of a gang-rape of a female student on a bus in Delhi), the recriminalisation of homosexuality (through the reinstatement of the British colonial penal code Section 377) in 2013 and the protests thereafter, and the 2014 Kiss of Love movement against moral policing and for the right to kiss in public (which religious forces define as an obscene act). All the while, Gurdas Maan bemoans, “the veiled women are disappearing”. On the question of disappearance then, his myopia is telling.

The Hindu newspaper states that “nearly three million girls, one million more than boys” were “‘missing’ in 2011 compared to 2001 and there are now 48 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than there were in 1981.” Alka Gupta, in a Unicef India press release, observes: “The decline in child sex ratio in India is evident by comparing the census figures. In 1991, the figure was 947 girls to 1000 boys. Ten years later it had fallen to 927 girls for 1000 boys. Since 1991, 80% of districts in India have recorded a declining sex ratio with the state of Punjab being the worst.”

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KumKum DasGupta in The Guardian newspaper notes that while “census data shows that India’s overall gender ratio is improving, its child gender ratio is on the decline: between 1991 and 2011, the country’s female-male gender ratio rose from 927:1,000 to 940:1,000, but its child gender ratio fell from 945:1,000 to 914: 1,000.”

2012 Birth Sex Ratio World Map. Source: World DataBank, Gender Statistics, The World Bank and United Nations (Wikimedia Commons)

2012 Birth Sex Ratio World Map. Source: World DataBank, Gender Statistics, The World Bank and United Nations (Wikimedia Commons)

In a globalising India, there is disturbing evidence that the practice of female foeticide and infanticide in certain parts of the country, such as Punjab, is getting worse rather than better, and that this is in part being aided by the technology of global capitalism. As Alka Gupta comments: “Social discrimination against women, already entrenched in Indian society, has been spurred on by technological developments that today allow mobile sex selection clinics to drive into almost any village or neighbourhood unchecked.” She concludes:

“experts warn that the demographic crisis will lead to increasing sexual violence and abuse against women and female children, trafficking, increasing number of child marriages, increasing maternal deaths due to abortions and early marriages and increase in practices like polyandry.”

KumKum DasGupta also concludes:

“The skewed gender ratio has given rise to a system of bride-buying in the affected states: although girls and young women are lured into marriage by promises of a happy and secure life, once purchased they can be exploited, denied basic rights, put to work as maids and, in many cases, abandoned.”

The state of Punjab is not marginal to these trends, it is central.

Map showing the safety for women, based on the Female Safety Index (FSI) in the Well Being Index India Report 2013 by Tata Strategic Management Group (Wikimedia Commons)

Map showing safety for women, based on the Female Safety Index (FSI) in the Well Being Index India Report 2013 by Tata Strategic Management Group (Wikimedia Commons)

In December 2014, The Indian Express newspaper reported that a 17 year old victim of rape was set ablaze in Punjab. Three of the six men who set fire to her were those accused of her rape. In April 2015, also in Punjab, the same newspaper recorded that a teenager jumped from a moving bus to her death, after she and her mother were sexually assaulted by one of the bus workers.

Perhaps Gurdas Maan’s social observation and words of advice vis-à-vis Punjab’s drug addiction problem are more astute than his commentary on gender and sexual relations. He sings:

Drugs are ruining the youth of our country / Reducing their bodies to bones that sound like Shiva’s drums of death / Bad politics is killing the ambition of our youth / Cheating has become the norm / Oh Maan, there is no guarantee of what the future holds / Remember our wise ancestors said that holding grudges against your circumstances will never bring you any good. So be positive!

Oh what is to become of our world? / Only the God almighty knows

[…]

My blessed soul belongs to you my almighty / It belongs to the heavenly star / It also belongs to holy men under the banyan tree / My blessed soul belongs to you my almighty

Punjab’s drug addiction problem is an epidemic one. A study by one of the state’s universities estimates that 70% of young men in Punjab are addicted to drugs or alcohol. A report by Al Jazeera reveals that corrupt politicians in the state are pandering to this widespread addiction by supplying drugs during election time to win votes. On the social factors driving this epidemic, the report insightfully concludes that:

“Drug abuse in Punjab owes much to the state’s declining agricultural economy, growing unemployment, the travails of rural life and Punjabi machismo.”

The material reality of Punjab is crucial context to the social problems it faces, be that its drug epidemic or its high suicide incidence rate. Mallika Kaur of Foreign Policy observes:

“Stagnant prices for produce, a lack of crop insurance and loan-forgiveness policies, and an unregulated lending market have left many farmers in insurmountable debt, fueling the disturbing suicide trend. The problem is particularly acute in Punjab. The epicenter of India’s agriculture bounty, Punjab reportedly has the highest rate of farmer suicide among the country’s states.”

She proceeds to stress the gender dynamics and implications of such a reality:

“While suicide victims are overwhelmingly men, the surviving women are particularly vulnerable to problems after their husbands, fathers, or other male family members are gone. Female heads of households traditionally have little earning power or independence. In some cases, families have dealt with multiple suicides, and the dependents, unable to cope with the resulting economic burden, also resort to the ultimate step of desperation. Widows routinely face disinheritance and dislocation, or abuse at the hands of their in-laws, while children – especially girls – are affected by abrupt removal from schools, nutritional deficits, and at times even bonded labor.”

Still, Gurdas Maan sings: “Remember our wise ancestors said that holding grudges against your circumstances will never bring you any good. So be positive! […] My blessed soul belongs to you my almighty.” Here Gurdas Maan wants to replace one opium for another, rather than politically confront and challenge the full and complex realities of socio-economic upheaval. Marx’s words come to mind:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” (Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

Perhaps the 50 million dollar Gurdas Maan is part of the illusion: a figure too uncritically idolised alongside the other gods.

Fanfare of Gurdas Maan in Punjab (Wikimedia Commons)

Fanfare of Gurdas Maan in Punjab (Wikimedia Commons)

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