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Bar Dancers, Morality and the Indian Law

The ban in Maharashtra on beer bars where women employees dance has completed five years. The prohibition is in line with colonial law that encoded the dominant morality of the colonisers and the elite. The configuration of "moral", "traditional" and "modern" stimulated by imperial morality and nationalist anxieties of the pure and pious is implicit in the very framework of Indian law.

The Hindu mythological tale of god Shiva defeating goddess Kali in a dance competition is an illustration of how even goddesses have to accept defeat in order to guard their modesty. In the contest, Kali manages to dance in perfect tandem with Shiva but loses when she is restrained by feminine modesty from imitating Shiva’s intentional pose of raising his right foot to the level of his crown. She accepts defeat (Hanna 1993). It is this victory that earned Shiva the title of “Nataraja”, the king of dance.

The legitimisation of dance1 by law in India is coded with imperial interpretations of the Indian dance. The manifestation of morality into law bears the influence of colonial morality and the colonial gaze of the native and his culture. The encoding of morality into law first initiated by the British government and later by its successors was a representation of and a comment on the native and his questionable morality. Nevertheless, the legal narrative adopted by the upper class Hindu male in imitation of the coloniser is not merely infused with Victorian morality but is also a product of Hindu puritanical anxiety. This anxiety is expressed in the language of law.

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