On Thursday, January 17, 2019, the Supreme Court passed a verdict to overturn the Maharashtra state government’s total prohibition on dance bars in Mumbai. The Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurant and Bar rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016 had laid down stringent conditions to control the licensing and functioning of these dance bars. The SC relaxed these rules, effectively allowing for these bars to be reopened for operations the first time since 2005, which is when the last of the licenses were issued.
The apex court bench led by Justice AK Sikri upheld the law, but diluted and scrapped many of its conditions. Certain rules were done away with such as the requirement of dance bars being located no less than one kilometre from religious places and educational institutions. The court struck down the requirement describing it as ‘not reasonable’ in a city like Mumbai.
The Supreme court also removed the compulsory requirement of installing CCTV cameras as it violates the individual’s privacy. Moreover, bar owners did not have to prove their ‘good character’ or lack of ‘criminal antecedents’ as the court said that there was ‘no precise definition’ for these terms.
There will also be no requirement for a partition between the bar room and the dance floor, thereby allowing service of liquor in these establishments.
However, the court upheld certain aspects of the law such as the timings of these business operations, which is limited to between 6pm and 11:30pm. Additionally, while the dancers could be paid tips, ‘showering of cash’ is prohibited.
“We are happy with the judgment. Our main intention was to protect the bar girls and that has been upheld by the court. Whoever comes to us fulfilling the conditions, we will give licenses,” said Nishant Katneshwarkar, the Maharashtra government’s lawyer, according to NDTV.
However, the sources in the Home Department have said that once it receives a copy of the Supreme Court order, there will be another round of internal discussion. The state government will then announce the new list of conditions that the dance bars will have to comply with, followed by fresh licenses being issued by the Mumbai Police.
According to Indian Express, Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Manjunath Singe said, “We have not yet received the copy of the court order. Once the copy is uploaded and we see the instructions of the court, there will be deliberations at the government level. A policy will need to be formed before we decide on the requirement on granting of licenses.”
Activists and others who were campaigning for the dancers’ right to livelihood had been apprehensive about this delay due to the state government’s involvement. Although they welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict, they lamented a marked lack of reprieve for those affected by the sudden dismantlement of the dance bar system in 2005. 300-odd bars were shut down or survived as orchestra joints and family restaurants, while the performers presumably lost their source of livelihoods.
“Many sold their houses, withdrew children from schools. Some fell sick. Some committed suicide,” said Pravin Aggarwal, owner of Borivali’s Smokey Ellora, who has also served as the president of Mumbai Hotels Association. Several of the dancers have left for their hometowns once they lost their jobs as employment numbers in the industry plummeted from 75,000 to 20,000 after the new law was introduced. Many others have taken on odd jobs, or became private call girls, while reports suggest that several were likely trafficked to the Gulf or other South East Asian countries for sex work.
The dance bar licenses were first cancelled in 2005, when the ruling and opposition parties came together to ban the ‘holding of a performance of dance, of any kind, in an eating house, permit room or beer bar’. Then-Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil, who also held the Home portfolio, defended the ban saying that, “such dance bars are used as meeting points by criminals and pick-up joints for girls indulging in immoral activities”.
A link to match-fixing and bookie betting had also emerged as a result of rumours in the media, which began with Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan’s visit to Deepa Bar.
Back in 2013, an SC bench constituting then-Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice SS Nijjar, slammed the ban as unconstitutional and chided the Maharashtra government for its ‘elitist’ and ‘discriminatory’ attitude. This followed and supported the Bombay High Court’s verdict quashing the 2005 ban. Nonetheless, the State Assembly unanimously passed the law in 2016.
Tejaswi Subramanian is a senior-sub editor at Qrius.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius