ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Maharashtra,: The Business of Banning

The Business of Banning If there was any doubt that the law banning dance bars in the state did not have a leg to stand on, the Mumbai High Court has certainly dispelled the notion. On April 12, justices F I Rebello and R Dalvi struck down the amendment made to the Bombay Police Act as unconstitutional and ordered that (dance) performance licences could be issued to bar owners after eight weeks. The bill to prohibit dancing in bars was passed unanimously by the Maharashtra state assembly on July 23, 2005, even as protests mounted and arguments were marshalled against the state

MAHARASHTRA

The Business of Banning

If there was any doubt that the law banning dance bars in

the state did not have a leg to stand on, the Mumbai High Court has certainly dispelled the notion. On April 12, justices F I Rebello and R Dalvi struck down the amendment made to the Bombay Police Act as unconstitutional and ordered that (dance) performance licences could be issued to bar owners after eight weeks. The bill to prohibit dancing in bars was passed unanimously by the Maharashtra state assembly on July 23, 2005, even as protests mounted and arguments were marshalled against the state’s moral proscriptions. The ban on dance bars in the state has seriously affected the livelihoods of the bar dancers, owners and workers of the 1,300 dance bars in Maharashtra, and they can expect to get some relief after the court order. The law was invalidated by the court on the basis of two crucial arguments: one, if the object was to “prevent dances which are obscene, vulgar or immoral and hence derogatory to the dignity of women” as well as exploitative of them, the exemption of certain types of establishments, namely, three-star hotels and above, clubs, etc, from the purview of the law goes against its grain. Two, the court asked the question, if women could work in any other capacity in the prohibited establishments, why did only dance amount to exploitation?

Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

This then goes to the heart of the matter and raises a plethora of questions about our assumptions of what constitutes work, and why work that makes self-conscious use of the erotic particularly acquires more onerous appellations. Women work in extremely harsh conditions as construction workers, waste collectors, and in the manufacture of toxic products such as firecrackers, etc, but their predicament does not seem to invite either the same outrage or condemnation. Perhaps this is related to the multiple and contradictory ways in which women themselves are viewed: as those who are untrustworthy and can “ensnare” men into committing immoral acts or as passive victims who need to be protected and sheltered from society. This is not to argue that exploitation in such occupations does not exist, but that inevitably the terms of engagement with the problem have more to do with moral preoccupations than with allaying the adverse conditions of work or protecting the rights of women. In a telling remark, the judgment indicts the legislature for not providing a rehabilitation plan for bar dancers even as it moved to make their livelihood illegal. In response to the government’s belated offer to come up with one, the court says, “the amendment cannot be rescued by subsequently formulating a scheme”.

In fact, the attitude of the lawmakers was plainly visible in the proceedings of the assembly when the bill came up for discussion. Bawdy comments about the skimpy clothes bar dancers wear elicited laughter, while other remarks about how women who performed a ‘nanga naach’ (naked dance) did not merit any sympathy, and how it was better to commit suicide than dance in bars, got a round of applause. Newspapers have since reported that 25 bar dancers committed suicide after the ban, while an unknown number have been displaced or forced into other, possibly harsher, occupations. Enough has been done since the institution of the ban to harass, intimidate and malign the affected bar girls as well: police raids in August 2005 led to the arrest of 85 women, 14 of whom continued to languish in jail for some months as they could not afford bail. An independent factfinding team led by a retired high court judge found that the women were illegally detained, ill-treated and harassed by the police.

The state has now unwisely decided to challenge the high court ruling in the Supreme Court and there is little doubt that bar owners will find it difficult to both obtain licences in the vitiated atmosphere and to run their businesses in the interim period. However, the reopening of dance bars also presents new opportunities for the women working there to negotiate the terms and conditions on which they are employed. A recent survey of 500 bar girls (conducted by SNDT University, Mumbai and Forum against Oppression of Women) brought to the fore some of the problems at the workplace and stressed the need to regularise working conditions at the bars. This would include preventing children from entering the profession, a minimum remuneration, retirement and medical benefits and protection against forced sexual relations and/or harassment. It would be worthwhile if the state directed some of its resources to solving existing problems rather than creating new ones.

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top