A major crackdown is expected on the dance bars, which are running illegally around Mumbai. Dance bars were banned from August
2005 but several of them still operate clandestinely in Mumbai and its suburbs.
Maharashtra home minister R R Patil said that if he comes across incidents or complaints of dance bars being operational, he would take action against police officials involved.
Patil's statement came during the Question Hour in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. A questioner complained that despite the ban, dance bars thrive in the western suburbs of Mumbai supposedly creating law and order problems with locals.
Patil, as home minister was instrumental in banning the dance bars. Following the ban, the Bharatiya Bargirls Union and Fight for Rights of Bar Owners' Association has moved the Bombay High Court, which lifted the ban, but allowed the Maharashtra
government to move Supreme Court. The SC has admitted the appeal of the state. The ban, however, remains in force.
While some of these work in the dance bars, which operate clandestinely and take in only selected patrons, some girls on the other hand – have been hunting other jobs since the dance bar ban. Some of them has taken to mujras, some are now
working as waitresses in orchestra-bars, some have moved to the Gulf and some have taken to prostitution.
In 1986, there were only 24 dance bars in the city. Within a year the number reached to 32. Within a decade the number went up to 206 and by 2005 the number rocketed to 1250. And, finally came the ban in 2005.
With both the Mumbai excise and police department refusing to budge from their earlier restrictions, bar girls
have decided to take matters into their own hands and commit mass suicide if they cannot get their jobs back.
Over 4,000 bar girls from the city have been jobless for the past month and a 48 member group will be submitting a written petition to the police department and the High Court today, seeking to resolve the matter at the earliest.
Kiran, who has been working in a dance bar for the last two years, said: I am homeless and my savings are exhausted. I am forced to live with friends and relatives, but even they refuse to let me stay on. The only option left is to commit suicide.
Similarly, other girls like her have been supporting their families and with their income stopped, they are facing a terrible crisis. Meena will lead the group to appeal to the Bangalore Police Commissioner: We are suffering because of someone
else's mistake. The cops have to answer why they are being so unfair, she said. She added that many girls are approaching prostitution agents from other states to generate income to sustain their families: Our actions are being forced by the
cops since we have no other option.
The Indian Supreme Court has asked the Maharashtra government to examine whether it can modify certain
provisions of the Bombay Police Act to ban only obscene and objectionable form of dance in bars, hotels and restaurants.
We do not want them (dancers) to go from the bars and restaurants to the streets, a three-judge bench observed, while granting the state two weeks time to examine the idea.
The court felt that dance by itself cannot be considered as obscene, as banning the activity may render thousands of dancers jobless, thus pushing them to the streets.
We have children dancing. Couples dancing at different places. There are dance floors. That by itself does not make it obscene or objectionable, the bench remarked, asking ex-Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium appearing for the state to
examine whether sections 33, 34 of the Bombay Police Act could be modified to ban only obscene and objectionable dance forms.
The Bombay high court had in 2006 quashed the ban imposed by the Mumbai police under the impugned provisions of the Act on dance shows in bars and restaurants on the ground that they were obscene, titillating and many of the girls were indulging
in prostitution. The Supreme Court had in 2006, admitted the state government's appeal against the high court verdict striking down the legislation as being unconstitutional .
During brief arguments, Subramanium claimed the ban was imposed to prevent trafficking and exploitation of women. He however, offered the government's willingness to discuss the issue with the various stake holders in the dispute for an
Due to recent miserable changes in the law, Mumbai bars have had to drop traditional ways for customers to tie up
with sex workers. And in an attempt to outfox the police, bar owners have come up with several ingenious methods to keep the ball rolling.
Confirming this was the Assistant Commissioner of Police of the special squad of the city police, Vasant Dhoble, who said recent raids on eight city bars over the last month showed the emergence of new, sophisticated trends:
We came across several bars where a ramp was created and the bar girls were asked to do walk on it, similar to what is done at fashion shows. The bar staff made them wear expensive, revealing clothes to attract customers. The customers then make
enquiries and choose a girl. This is a new trend that we have come across in our recent raids on bars. There is a full-fledged thriving prostitution racket going on in bars.
And how does the money change hands? Girls walking the ramp get huge tips from clients and the bar takes a considerable cut out of that as commission .
That's not all. When the cops came calling, they seldom found the girls scurrying into hidden cavities and bunkers. Nowadays, it takes less time to hide girls. During police raids in the past , the security guard used to warn those inside the bar
by pressing a switch on the main door, which either set off an alarm inside or turned lights and off. The girls then used to jump into the bunkers on stand-by. But now, the bars have kept a dedicated waiting man in the bunkers, whose job is to
pull in the girls as soon as the raid begins. This makes it faster to hide the girls.
The police claimed that hidden cavities and bunkers were found at almost all the bars that were raided. During raids, we go around with a sledgehammer and demolish cavities inside the bars. But, they again make new cavities. We have written to
the civic department about this. But no action has been taken yet, said a police officer on the condition of anonymity.
Another new way to outmanoeuvre the eagle-eyed police personnel is to make the bar girls sit down as customers the moment a raid begins. This makes it difficult for the police to establish if the girl is one of the bar's staff or a genuine
customer, said the police officer.
India's Supreme Court has undone an unfair and hypocritical ban on dance bars in Mumbai.
In 2005, the Maharashtra government, led by Home Minister R.R. Patil, worked itself into a fine moralistic fury about these establishments, claiming that dance bars bred prostitution and crime, declaring that the state was prepared to forgo excise
revenue for the sake of a greater virtue.
Though the Bombay High Court struck down the ban in 2006, the state appealed to the Supreme Court, and meanwhile, because of a court stay, hundreds of bars closed, the women working in them were pushed into even more straitened circumstances, while elite
versions of the same pleasures carried on. While the state destroyed the livelihoods of those who worked in the dance bars, it had no way to ensure them access to more acceptable jobs.
The Supreme Court has rightly ordered the state to concentrate on regulating these establishments better. After all, if it is genuinely concerned about crime and prostitution, it should be making sure the women who work in these bars have greater
protections, and it should focus police efforts on crime control, rather than moral oversight.
Acknowledging the right of women bar dancers to follow their profession, India's Supreme Court suspended a law banning
dance performances in Maharashtra and directed the state government to grant licences to the bar owners without insisting on the prohibitory legislation.
Critical of the 2014 amendment in the Maharashtra Police Act that had imposed a total ban on dance bars and dance performances, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and P C Pant noted that the state government re-enacted a similar piece of legislation after
the top court struck down a prohibitory provision in 2013.
The bench rejected Maharashtra government's argument that the two provisions were different and the 2014 amendment was perfectly valid. The difference that is perceptible from the provisions which have been reproduced above are really immaterial, it said.
However the judges added a caveat that no performance of dance shall remotely be expressive of any kind of obscenity in any manner and that the licensing authority can take steps so that the individual dignity of a woman is not affected and
there remains no room for any kind of obscenity.