Lifting The Bar On Bar Girls
In India’s multi-faceted democracy, bans, and that too from the government, have never really worked in practice. The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the dance bar ban in Maharashtra is one such example of this stark reality. The bar dancers had contended that besides being discriminative, the police order impinged on their right to livelihood. They had also contended that besides dancing at the bar they knew no other trade to earn their living. Upholding the Bombay High Court order of 2006 that quashed the Maharashtra government’s 2005 decision to ban dancing in beer bars and restaurants, a bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice SS Nijjar also vacated the stay order granted on the state government’s plea challenging the HC verdict. The Maharashtra government, which came up with the ban orders through an amendment in the Bill, could not back it up before the judiciary.
In 2005, RR Patil, the Home Minister of Maharashtra, after a discussion in the legislative assembly, decided to ban dance bars across the state, resulting in the closure of 1350 bars. These bars used to employ about 75,000 bar girls. The state government had sought to effect a ban by promulgating an ordinance, but the Governor had returned the same saying the government could introduce a bill on the issue in the assembly. In July 2005, the Mumbai Police (amendment) Bill, 2005, was introduced during the monsoon session and was passed by both the houses unanimously. SM Krishna, the then Governor, gave his assent to the Bill.
During the debate on the Bill, the attention of the government was drawn to the mushrooming of illegal dance bars and their ill-effects on the society, including ruining of dancers’ families. The members of both the ruling and opposition benches agreed that dance bars were used as meeting points by criminals and pick-up joints for girls indulging in immoral activities. Several women’s group from across the country opposed this arbitrary ban and alleged that banning dance bars would compel women to resort to activities where there is even greater sexual exploitation. This was true to a certain extent, as in the following years, it was seen that many of these bar girls had gone abroad and were performing in bars in the Gulf. Many had taken to prostitution, or were still working illegally.
Soon after the ban was imposed, the Association of Hotel and Restaurants challenged the Bill in the Bombay High Court. Varsha Kale, president of Dance Bar Girls’ Association, too filed a petition in the HC, alleging that the state government had not made any rehabilitation plan for dancers and due to the ban, bar girls would be forced to adopt prostitution, as they would be jobless. The High Court had struck down the ban, enforced by the state government, forcing the Maharashtra government to file an appeal before the Supreme Court.
Over the years, the dance bars proliferated because the excise department freely granted licences, without bothering about the rules. As per the claims of bar owners, the Maharashtra government was officially earning about Rs 1,500 crore a year from these dance bars. Most of these bars are opened by policemen and politicians, with patronage of the underworld.
On the hindsight, we cannot pass moral judgement on the bar girls, but at the same time allow lewd music videos, salacious advertisements (including Man Force condom’s ad featuring porn-star-turned-actor Sunny Leone and Zatak perfumes), and vulgar songs to be beamed on all channels all the time. The sheer hypocrisy, duplicity and double facedness of Indian society can be seen from the khap panchayats, kidnappings and killings over inter-caste marriages, crimes of passion and a sharp increase in rape cases. We are tolerantly intolerant.
According to a recent survey conducted by Google, India is top seeker of porn and adult content on the web. In a country where item number songs have become a must in every film and no wedding is complete without a sangeet or bhangra, where imitation of Sheila, Munni or Jalebi Bai is gyrated upon. The bars and disco of downtown Gurgaon, where last week, 100 teenagers were found in drunken stupor, are but another example.
Indian courts have in recent times been in the news for passing judgments on live-in relationships, single mothers, paternity suits, age of consent, etc. The days are not far when same sex marriages and cricket betting will be made legal. The Supreme Court’s verdict has not gone down well with any of the political parties and just hours after the verdict, the Maharashtra government has made it clear that it would file a review petition. Till then, Tarranum, Julie, Rosie and Sweety can breathe easy. Good times are back.