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India: Supreme court rules against ban on Bombay’s dance bars | Womens groups petition for rights of bar dancers

1 August 2013

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[posted below are recent reports and commentary from the media]

The Hindu
Mumbai, July 31, 2013

‘Ban on dance in bars a case of caste apartheid’

Staff Reporter

Provide compensation to over 75,000 bar dancers who lost their livelihood

Women’s organisations across Maharashtra have come together to petition their demands concerning the rights of bar dancers to the government. Their petition is in response to the recent Supreme Court verdict which declared that the ban on dance in bars was in violation of the Constitution.

Terming the 2005 ban on dance bars as a serious case of “caste apartheid,” the groups have spelt out a few demands — which they will take to the Women and Child Welfare Department — in order that utmost care be taken to protect the rights and dignity of women while acting on the court order.

“The 2005 legislation of the Maharashtra government banning bar dancers amounts to specifically targeting these women, who have for generations, been discriminated against on the basis of their caste. This was nothing short of caste apartheid brought in through legal undemocratic means due to the misogyny of the political class,” they said in a press release on Tuesday.

Top on the list of demands is the need for compensation to more than 75,000 bar dancers who lost their livelihood after the ban. Many of them suffered huge economic and psychological losses, many had to stop their children from getting a decent education and some of them even attempted suicide.

“The ban and the announcements by the Maharashtra government further contributed to the deterioration in the social status of the women dancers. The baseless and obscene charges of the government in the media and the court rendered most of the 75,000 women even more vulnerable and unemployable. Many of them were even thrown out of their rented accommodation,” said Sandhya Gokhale from the Forum Against Oppression of Women.

They also sought a grievance cell in dance bars with a legal backing to ensure that minors not be forced to work in dance bars or that the bar dancers’ safety be of primary importance. The need of the hour, according to the women’s organisations, is to ensure protection against sexual harassment; medical and maternity benefits; weekly offs; provisions for health and safety; and other benefits offered to employees of any organisation. They demanded that dancers should come under the Mathadi Act of 1969 which regulates the employment of unprotected manual workers.

The forum sought an apology from the government to the bar dancers whose lives were shattered after the ban.

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The Hindu, July 30, 2013

Cut out the bias

Raktima Bose

Dance no bar: Bar dancers shout slogans at a protest rally against the ban in Mumbai in 2005. File Photo: Vivek Bendre

Women’s groups are putting together recommendations to remedy the gender and caste bias perpetrated by the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra

Over 75,000 women went out of work eight years ago when the Maharashtra government arbitrarily clamped a ban on dance bars in Mumbai. While the government cited that the profession made the women a vulnerable lot and easy to exploit as reasons behind the crackdown, in reality, it pushed thousands of these women to the further depths of poverty and desperation.

Now even as the Supreme Court recently lifted the ban calling it unconstitutional, the State government is firm that the dance bars will remain shut with Home Minister R.R. Patil making a statement to the effect at the State Assembly. The government is reportedly seeking legal opinion to stay the apex court order.

A host of women’s groups and activists have raised their voices against this defiant attitude of the Maharashtra government and are putting together a clutch of recommendations to remedy the gender and caste bias perpetrated by the ban.

They strongly recommend that the government pay compensation to all bar dancers for “causing economic harm, psychological damage, destruction of family welfare, enhancing social stigma and endangering their health and that of their family members”.

They point out that following the ban, many women have incurred huge loans to run their families; many had to withdraw their children from schools, thus trampling on their right to education; many women were thrown out of their rented accommodations and some even committed/attempted suicide.

Worse still, the ban grossly discriminated against a large section of women belonging to castes wherein dancing by women was the traditional means of livelihood. Being denied the opportunity to acquire any other skill for centuries, these women had no other option but to enter their caste-based profession. “By imposing the ban, the government further pushed the women into even greater levels of starvation...This was nothing short of caste apartheid brought in through legal undemocratic means due to the misogyny of the political class,” the activists have stated.

Advocating the inclusion of the bar dancers under the Maharashtra Mathadi, Hamal and other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act, 1969, some the rights that have been identified as basic ones for working women in bars need are: monitoring and prevention of entry of children into bars as dancers or in any other capacity; safe working condition and protection against harassment from both employers and authorities; maternity benefits; medical benefits; crèche facilities for children; paid weekly-offs; retirement benefits and pensions/superannuation funds.

A grievance cell formed by Bar Dancers’ Association/ Union, Bar Owners’ Associations and women’s organisations to look into the service conditions in dance bars should be granted legal authority, the women’s organisations have added.

They have also demanded a clear policy against police harassment and caging women in remand homes. “Not only the police, but various members of civil society have also started systematically abusing bar dancers. This was partly due to the government’s anti-women announcements in the media about the dancers being a depraved lot.” There have many instances of women legally working in the bars but not dancers have been picked up by the police and made to languish in remand homes under inhuman conditions.

Finally, the State government should devise policies and schemes that attack the caste system and provide diverse livelihood opportunities for women such that they can break free of caste-determined jobs.

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Economic and Political Weekly, Vol - XLVIII No. 30, July 27, 2013

A Pyrrhic Victory


Mumbai’s bar dancers will only get partial relief from the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

The Supreme Court’s 16 July ruling upholding the 2006 judgment of the Bombay High Court that upturned the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars is, at best, a pyrrhic “victory” for the women who danced in these bars. In 2005, when the ban was instituted, an estimated 75,000 women lost their main source of livelihood. Hence, it is presumed that following the Supreme Court’s ruling these women will once again have recourse to a livelihood option. However, a closer reading of the judgment coupled with the competitive “moral” politics of Maharashtra suggests that the “victory” is only partial.

The Bombay High Court struck down the Maharashtra government’s amendment to the Bombay Police Act, 1951 banning all forms of dancing in bars that were lower than three star status, to be against the constitutional provisions in Articles 14 and 19(1)(g). By amending Section 33 (A) of the law, the Maharashtra government had created two categories for the same activities. Women could not perform in licensed bars outside hotels that were three star or higher, or in private clubs. The justification for the ban was that these performances resulted in depravity, lowering public morality and exploited the women. Yet, no such value judgment was made on the same or similar performances in the higher class establishments. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Supreme Court has confirmed what the Bombay High Court concluded, namely, that such a law is discriminatory and goes against the Constitution.

Now that the ban has been struck down, will dance bars reopen and the women find work again? In the year following the ban, which was incidentally supported by virtually all political parties in Maharashtra, and the Bombay High Court judgment, hundreds of bars were forced to close. Apart from the women dancers, the entire industry consisting of support staff, waiters, managers, and others who provided services to these bars was put out of work. And as the Maharashtra government managed to get a stay from the Supreme Court on the Bombay High Court ruling, the ban prevailed.

Despite the Court ruling, it is unlikely that things will return to pre-ban days. Although many dance bars metamorphosed as “live music” bars, they will now have to apply for fresh licences if they want to introduce dance performances. It is unlikely that these will be granted in a hurry. The Maharashtra government has already indicated that it might go back to Court. It has to maintain the appearance of being concerned about “public morality”, the apparent reason it went in for the ban, because it cannot afford to yield this high moral ground to its competitors, especially the Shiv Sena but also its ally the Nationalist Congress Party.

The Supreme Court has asked the Maharashtra government to implement the rules formulated by its own committee prior to the ban. These rules include restrictions on what the women can wear while dancing, a fenced-off area where they dance, not more than eight women dancing at one time, not permitting the “showering” of money on dancers and registering the names and addresses of the dancers. In their anxiety to restart, bar owners are already promising to implement all this and more.

None of these so-called “rules”, however, will alter the daily reality that bar dancers have had to live with all these years. For instance, there is no guarantee that these women will work under better conditions. In the past, many did not get paid and depended entirely on the money “showered” on them by the clientele. If these tips are now to be collected by the bar’s management, it is anybody’s guess how much will finally get to the women. Even at the best of times, the bar dancers had no security and could be turned away on any given day. That insecurity will continue. And finally, only a small number of those who lost their jobs in 2005 are likely to be re-employed as they are now older and do not fit the profile of the bar dancer.

The Court’s intervention apart, what remains untouched is the “popular” conception of what is moral and immoral. The ban on dance bars exposed how lawmakers fell over each other in declaring the immorality of women dancing in bars even as they swore concern about the exploitation of women. At no point did any of them notice the hypocrisy of pushing ahead with policies that make women more vulnerable to exploitation while denying them agency and the right of choice.

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Don’t shut dance bars, ensure women safety: SC
Satya Prakash

Hindustan Times New Delhi, July 17, 2013

“The cure is worse than the disease.” This is what the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while upholding the Bombay high court’s quashing of the ban on dance bars.

“In our opinion, it would be more appropriate to bring about measures which should ensure the safety and improve the working conditions of the persons working as bar girls,” a bench of the Chief Justice of India Altmas Kabir and justice SS Nijjar said dismissing the Maharashtra Government’s appeal against the high court’s order.

“The right to practise a trade or profession and the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 (of Constitution) are, by their very nature, intermingled with each other, but in a situation like the present one, such right cannot be equated with unrestricted freedom like a run-away horse... it would be better to treat the cause than to blame the effect and to completely discontinue the livelihood of a large section of women, eking out an existence by dancing in bars, who will be left to the mercy of other forms of exploitation,” the CJI, who wrote a separate and concurring judgment, said.

“The compulsion of physical needs has to be taken care of while making any laws on the subject. Even a bar dancer has to satisfy her hunger, provide expenses for her family and meet day-to-day expenses in travelling from her residence to her place of work, which is sometimes even as far as 20 to 25km away,” Justice Kabir said.

“Women worldwide are becoming more and more assertive of their rights and want to be free to make their own choices, which is not an entirely uncommon or unreasonable approach. But it is necessary to work towards a change in mindset of people in general not only by way of laws and other forms of regulations, but also by way of providing suitable amenities for those who want to get out of this trap and to either improve their existing conditions or to begin a new life altogether,” the CJI said.

Highlighting that discontinuance of bar dancing led to closure of a large number of establishments resulting in loss of employment for about 75,000 women, the CJI noted that many of these “unfortunate people were forced into prostitution merely to survive, as they had no other means of survival.”

Terming it a “Hobson’s choice between starving and in resorting to bar dancing”, the CJI said, “From the materials placed before us and the statistics shown, it is apparent that many of the bar dancers have no other option as they have no other skills, with which they could earn a living. Though some of the women engaged in bar dancing may be doing so as a matter of choice, not very many women would willingly resort to bar dancing as a profession.

“Whichever way one looks at it, the matter requires the serious attention of the State and its authorities, if the dignity of women, as a whole, and respect for them, is to be restored,” the CJI said.

“...instead of generating unemployment, it may be wiser for the State to look into ways and means in which reasonable restrictions may be imposed on bar dancing, but without completely prohibiting or stopping the same.

“It is all very well to enact laws without making them effective. The State has to provide alternative means of support and shelter to persons engaged in such trades or professions, some of whom are trafficked from different parts of the country and have nowhere to go or earn a living after coming out of their unfortunate circumstances. A strong and effective support system may provide a solution to the problem.”

Ban, not dance bars, fed flesh trade
Mumbai: In August 2012, police rescued 36 women from Delhi who were being taken to the Gulf as part of a sex racket. The operation hit on an international racket, fed by the ban on dance bars, which made thousands jobless. The tip-off came from a girl who used to work at a dance bar.

She was taken on an Arabian ’junket’ as part of a "cultural troupe" and then was forced to entertain customers. "It is a misconception that bar dancers were into flesh trade. The ban pushed them to desperation," said Pravin Agarwal, one of the petitioners against the ban.