• Banning, unbanning of dance bars for what?

    There was an amendment made to the Bombay Police Act, 1951 in 2005, where dance bars were banned with immediate effect. In 2006, the Bombay High Court struck the amendment down, stating it as unconstitutional, as it infringes a person’s right to livelihood. Ever since then, there has been a constant battle between the administration and various bar dancers’ associations, with a constant lifting and imposing of the ‘ban’.

    Finally, on Thursday, October 15, 2015, the Supreme Court overruled the amendment and paved way for a secure livelihood for the women whose lives were dwindling like the broken twig in a storm. The bench of Judges passing the stay included Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafull Chandra Pant.

    We have no authority to take moral high ground and look down upon these women or say that deserve the treatment or even be indifferent. 

    They bench also cleared that any obscenity would not be accepted, and if observed, it could amount to revoking of licenses of the dance bar owners. The government here holds the higher terrain of power in regulation of activities. What’s perplexing to me is the fact that nowhere has it been mentioned as to what would amount to being considered as an ‘act of obscenity’.

    While this power-play might have affected the lives of dance-bar owners and pimps a bit, the section that was most affected was the bar dancers themselves. Over the course of over a decade of debate over the existence of dance bars, many women were trafficked to neighboring countries (mostly to the underworld goons) for work. Pimps and dealers must have made quite a fortune out of the episode.

    We, as a society, look down upon these women as deviants and without morals or maybe even without a soul. We call them corrupt and do not allow them to integrate themselves in mainstream society, once we know what they do. We often confuse it with who they are.

    Some might also say that they earn way more than what any other unskilled laborer earns in a day. They have money, so they don’t need our sympathy or acceptance. They can get things done.

    True. What’s also true is that their profession comes with its own set of hazards and occupational expenses (pimps, police, makeup, alcohol/drugs). They live on the edge, without much surety as to what rule the government might pass, without even taking their position into account, and how it might affect their interests.

    Since the earnings from ‘such activities’ is considered illegitimate, they can’t even store it in their bank accounts or make investment choices like us. They often have entire families dependent on their income is that how did they reach to the point of not able to make an exit.

    Sometimes it’s their own choice, too. They get in because of the easy money or access to the underworld, or maybe just to have some extra money. Many established actresses of today have also once been bar dancers in their days of struggle.

    We have no authority to take moral high ground and look down upon these women or say that deserve the treatment or even be indifferent. If as a society, we are unable to accept such deviance, we must remind ourselves that these women are also a product of the same society and it is the perfect imbalance of power that caused them to end up the way they did. We, as a society have failed.

    bar dancer

    Our religious scriptures talk of Mohini and Urvashi;

    The Devadasi system has been a prevalent practice in India, where temple lords kept women with them at the temple, often accessible to the highest donors of the temple. In continues in many parts of India even today.

    The mujra and tawaif culture of the Mughal era still continue in Varanasi, Lucknow and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. They are an international tourist destination for culture and art.

    Some of the prominent figures have gone to the extent of calling them ‘necessary evil’. Evil or not, they are an offshoot of our society, and are capable of contributing enough to the country’s economy. But the real question is, “Are we willing to share the services we receive from the government at an equal status with them?”

    As women, will we ever stop looking at them as our man-stealers and just try to imagine ourselves in their situation?