On Thursday, the Supreme Court eased a slew of restrictions that the Maharashtra government had put on the functioning of dance bars. A bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan did away with the requirement of CCTV cameras in such bars, holding it to be a violation of privacy. It also said there was no need to segregate dancing areas from where drinks would be served and lifted the prohibition on serving liquor in dance bars.
The working hours of the bars, however, remain restricted, from 6 pm to 11.30 pm.
These and other rules had been introduced through the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dances in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women Act, 2016. In August 2018, the Supreme Court pulled up the state government for not allowing dance bars to open in Mumbai and observed that there was “total moral policing” going on in Maharashtra.
Thursday’s order marks the latest round in the tussle between the top court and the Maharashtra government, which has been doggedly trying to shut down dance bars for nearly 15 years now.
Dance bars were banned in Maharashtra in 2005 by the coalition government of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party which claimed they were a den of crime and “immoral activities”. By one estimate, the ban put more than 75,000 dancers out of work, reportedly driving a large percentage of them to prostitution.
The ban was overturned by the Bombay High Court in 2006. The state government appealed to the Supreme Court, which stayed the High Court order. In 2013, the top court eventually declared the ban unconstitutional and lifted it. The government tried to skirt the ruling through a 2014 amendment to the Maharashtra Police Act, but that too was overturned. The government then passed the 2016 Act, whose provisions have now been relaxed as well.
Maharashtra’s crackdown on dance bars has damaged hotel businesses and thrown the lives of thousands of women into uncertainty. As the Supreme Court observed on Thursday, no licences have been given for new dance bars since 2005, when the ban was enforced.
Here’s a list of articles about the ban, its fallout and impact on the lives of bar dancers.
1. An explainer in The Indian Express briefly lays out what all has happened since the ban was imposed in 2005.
2. This 2013 article in The Indian Express narrates the experiences of those connected with the dance bar business and pieces together the costs of the ban eight years after it was enforced. It details the loss of state revenue, the struggles of hotel owners, and the plight of dancers, many of whom were driven to suicide.
3. In Anatomy of a Lost Livelihood in The Hindu, Sukhada Tatke talks to former dancers to trace the impact of the ban on their lives.
4. Sonia Faleiro, the author of Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars, has a scathing critique of the late Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil, who spearheaded the ban. “Patil’s statements about the link between dance bars and crime have been proved false,” she writes in Mint. “Yet, he continues to repeat the lies, as though willing them to be true just so he can avoid taking responsibility for failing in his job to keep people safe.”
6. This 2016 article in The Telegraph examines how at the remaining dance bars in Mumbai – most of them operating illegally – the show is still going on, but has lost much of its sheen.
7. In an interview to the Deccan Chronicle, a bar dancer talks about the stigma attached to her profession. “If the government wants to close the business, then it must provide us an alternate employment opportunity,” she says. “If it doesn’t, we will have no other option but to get into prostitution.”