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'Mr Chief Minister, Mumbai's bar dancers are not sleazy'

Parth MN | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:24 IST

The ban

  • In 2005, the Maharashtra govt prohibited dance bars
  • Over 75,000 girls lost their livelihoods due to this decision

The court order

  • Last week, the Supreme Court suspended the legal provision banning the bars
  • It recognised the dancers\' right to practice their profession

More in the story

  • Bar owners\' chief Adarsh Shetty narrates the story of a tough decade
  • He wants to convince the govt that it\'s not a cheap profession

Last week, the Supreme Court suspended a legal provision banning dance performances in Maharashtra.

Accepting that women bar dancers had a right to practice their profession, the apex court directed the state government to grant licences to bar owners without insisting on the prohibitory legislation.

This has come as a huge relief to bar owners in Mumbai and across the state. Catch spoke to Adarsh Shetty, president of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association, about the Supreme Court order. Here's what he had to say.

A legal profession

We are coming to the end of what has been an extremely difficult decade. It has been 10 years since the government banned dance bars, and took the moral high ground.

The decade has been arduous for bar owners, who have been severely affected by the ban. It put some of the hotel staff out of work. But it has particularly taken a toll on the 75,000 girls whose livelihoods were snatched away in the blink of an eye.

A profession becomes a profession when the government legitimises it. We were licence holders, which meant our business was legal. Once the authorities permit the functioning of any business, a whole independent economy starts revolving around it. And suddenly, it was ruptured.

The orchestra bars working with licences absorbed a miniscule section of those who lost their jobs, but the larger concern remained.

The girls suffered the most

We all know what the dance girls did after 2005. It is an open secret that they turned towards prostitution. Some even took the extreme step and committed suicide.

There are many examples I can share. One is particularly distressing. I will not name her. She was a bar dancer who had taken an education loan from the bank for her kid brother. She herself could not study because of circumstances, but was determined to fulfill her brother's dreams.

She lost her job due to the ban. She came to the association for help. We, as an association, paid her some money. But that was not sufficient. And we could only go to a certain limit. Now she is being forced into doing things she did not intend to.

The government just banned dance bars. But it did not comprehend the consequences. It didn't think of any alternatives. The girls were left to fight their own battle.

It was disturbing to see the way life panned out for the women we had employed. They had to endure hardships for no fault of theirs. With a heavy heart, the bar owners had to get rid of them, as their business too had been encumbered substantially.

I know a few bar owners who helped some girls out on humanitarian grounds, but there is only so much one can do to defeat the institutional crisis unleashed upon one.

Dancer's security the prime concern

The ban was hard to fathom. We could never get our heads around it. It was the agenda of just one gentleman. He ensured the closure of this business.

He is no more, so I would not like to say anything further. However, there are certain perceptions in society about this profession and I would like to set the record straight.

In a dance bar, you cannot even touch the lady. The moment a dance girl enters the premises of the hotel, she is the responsibility of the hotel. Her security is of prime concern. We make sure she is not ill treated in any sort of way. She is dropped off by car at her residence late at night - the pickup and drop facilities are not restricted to five-star hotels.

'We held licences. Our business was legal' - says dance bar owners' representative Adarsh Shetty

The girls are not paid employees of the hotel. They are freelancers. Therefore, the amount of money a girl makes in an evening differs from person to person. The income depends on the talent of the dancer and the will of those enjoying her dance. The bracket is as wide as Rs 500 per day to Rs 5,000 per day.

It is a direct transaction between the dancer and the spectator. The hotel does not even interfere with it. The hotel is merely concerned about her security and talent, because if a good dancer avails the platform of a particular hotel, it boosts the business. More people walk in and spend more on liquor and food.

Most of the girls reside in a particular area. It is a sort of a community of theirs. In the community, various girls work for various hotels and that is how we get in touch with them: through word of mouth. Whether a particular girl wants to work for a particular hotel or not is solely her decision. That itself proves the profession is voluntary.

Did the moral police rehabilitate the girls?

Every girl comes from a different background. Some of the dancers have a family tradition of dancing. Their ancestors danced for the rajas and maharajas.

We had dancers from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, to whom dancing comes naturally. There were girls attending college during the day and working as dance girls at night.

Mumbai is a tough place. They all have a family to look after. Not everyone is as lucky as we are. One must be careful before judging them. Their work was nothing but a legal mode of earning a livelihood by keeping their dignity intact.

Unfortunately, the government depicted the profession to be extremely sleazy. And the society's perception is a byproduct of the way the government has dealt with them.

A dancer had taken an education loan for her brother. She was forced to do things she didn't intend

Therefore, the moral police had been calling for the ban as well. But where were they when 75,000 ladies went out of jobs and were forced into doing things they did not intend to do?

The government did not do anything for them. But how many of the 75,000 were rehabilitated by the moral police that went gaga over the ban on dance bars? You merely want to take the moral high ground by shutting down a business. It is nothing but double standards.

The media, on the other hand, has been supportive. It has always endorsed the democratic right of dance girls. In TV debates, we had Shobhaa De, Alyque Padamsee, Prahlad Kakkar, Mukesh Bhatt and so many eminent personalities defending the dance bars.

Not a sleazy profession

After the Supreme Court decision, a friend of mine from Melbourne, who had been here before 2005 and experienced the dance bars, called me up and asked me regarding their resumption. He said he would make his New Year plans accordingly.

My friends outside Maharashtra, too, called me up. They want to come back. I can cite umpteen examples where people have stopped visiting Mumbai since the banning of dance bars. "Abhi kya mazaa raha (what's the fun now)," they said.

Despite all this, we have the current Chief Minister of Maharashtra saying dance bars do not fit in our culture. I need not respond to it, as the Supreme Court has examined every angle of the case meticulously and ruled in our favour.

The CM is not higher than the Supreme Court, but at the same time, he is my CM. We do not want to be a nuisance for the government either. I am willing to have a dialogue with him and convince him otherwise. I would like to talk to him and clear his apprehensions.

Today, you have hardcore Muslim countries like UAE, Bahrain and Turkey where dance bars are proudly promoted and are instrumental in generating tourism revenue.

I want this government to understand that dance bars can be a major tourist attraction in Mumbai, which was the case until 2005. It is not a sleazy profession by any stretch of imagination.

First published: 20 October 2015, 7:09 IST
Parth MN @parthpunter

Parth is a special correspondent with the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in mass communication and journalism from Journalism Mentor, Mumbai. Prior to journalism, Parth was a professional cricketer in Mumbai for 10 years.