The guardians of public morality
Livemint reported on the Supreme Court’s decision against the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars:
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared that the state government’s decision almost eight years ago had been unconstitutional. The apex court was upholding a decision by the Bombay high court, which, in 2006, found the ban was against the spirit of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with the principle of equality before law.
Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars spoke to Firstpost about the SC verdict lifting the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars:
thinkagree with the Supreme Court’s decision?
The Court upheld a woman’s right to work, stating that “even a bar dancer has to satisfy her hunger”. How can anyone argue with that? (Of course, the state of Maharashtra did try). And it made clear than the ban — aimed at a certain type of woman performing at a certain type of drinking establishment for a certain kind of man — made assumptions about her work and character that were not just incorrect, but an assault on her dignity. There’s no argument one can make against the core of this judgment.
Is it realistically possible to bring about these improvements, considering societal conventions, biases and power dynamic that’s entirely against women who work in dance bars?
The bars are run on the backs of these women. They are the reason men even come to the bars. We know this because once dancing was banned, many bar owners shut down their bars. Despite this, bar dancers remain bottom feeders, among the last to reap any benefit from the business they attract.
I wouldn’t count on bar owners to take the women’s rights or needs into consideration any more than they did before. They won’t because they don’t have to.
This is the crux of the argument. The constitution gives everyone an equal right to livelihood. In a democracy, one would expect governments to protect these rights. Instead, our politicians demonize groups without justification. In answer to a follow-up question, Faleiro points out that India’s unquestioning and sensationalist media is equally to blame:
Why do you think political parties, whose cadre frequented dance bars, supported the ban?
There appears to have been a carefully orchestrated campaign to portray dance bars as brothels and bar dancers as prostitutes. The media fed the stereotypes of the bar dancer as courtesan, portraying her as the natural enemy of the moral, middle class woman. Once her portrayal as a subhuman vixen was complete, it was only natural that politicians across the board would lack the spine or the common sense to defend her rights. In the war between women ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘bad’ woman was doomed to fail, not just in the court of public opinion but also in the legislature. I’m proud that the highest court in the land has stood up for her.
BS reported on the Maharashtra police’s knee-jerk reaction:
“This (restarting of dance bars) might result in revival of activities of the underworld and anti-social elements. There have been several instances in the past which suggest that the accused have held meetings in the bars to decide their targets,” said a crime branch official.
Another official said that dance bars encourage night life beyond permissible time, which may prompt drunken driving incidents, late night fights on the streets or even robberies etc.
“Criminals and gang leaders routinely visit dance bars. They shower their ill-gotten money on the bar girls. They use dance bars as a recruiting ground for robbers. These are dens of anti-social elements,” the officer said.
“Due to rampant corruption in the police department, it is very difficult to ensure proper operations of the dance bars and this would result in increase in the crime,” [former IPS officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh] said.
That makes a strange kind of sense: blame the dance girls and shut down the bars since the police is corrupt. The obvious next step is to shut down traffic to prevent the traffic police from being corrupted by the idea of taking bribes.