The ‘dance bars’ of Maharashtra
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A historical background
PEEK INTO THE PAST
July 21, 2005 | The Maharashtra legislature passed a bill to introduce sections 33A and 33B in the Bombay Police Act, banning dance performances at permit rooms, beer bars and eating houses across the state
Such performances were allowed in starred hotels, theatres and establishments specified by state or centre to promote culture and tourism
Aug 15 | The Bombay Police (Amendment) Act, 2005, came into force. All dance bar licences stood cancelled
Aug 17 | Indian Hotel & Restaurant Association (AHAR), a host of NGOs, the Bhartiya Bargirls Union filed a writ petition in the Bombay HC against ban
April 12, 2006 | HC sets aside the ban as ‘void’ in law and held that it was ‘not in public interest’ April 2006: State moves SC, which stayed HC order
July 16, 2013 | SC upholds HC judgment, quashes dance bar ban Police fear dance bars may lead to spurt in crime
The whole question of morality attached to bar dancers is unfounded. Society cannot be about middle-class morality. Why not hold the men visiting dance bars responsible instead of holding girls earning a livelihood responsible?”
—FLAVIA AGNES | WOMEN’S RIGHTS LAWYER
Decisions of the superior courts
Bombay high court verdict: April 2006
Bombay HC verdict in 2006 on dance bars had questioned govt motive
Swati Deshpande, TNN | Jul 16, 2013
MUMBAI: The landmark verdict of the Bombay high court in April 2006 which the Supreme Court upheld on Tuesday had questioned the state government's motive behind imposing the "unreasonable" ban on dance bars.
The HC bench of justice F I Rebello and justice Roshan Dalvi had held that the law passed by the state in 2005 was void as it imposed "an unreasonable restriction" which was "not in the public interest". The ban, enforced from August 15, 2005 on grounds of "immorality and obscenity", was touted as one of the key achievements of the ruling party.
Justice Rebello had been elevated as chief justice of Allahabad high court and has since retired. It was a judgment penned by him.
The HC after hearing a bunch of public interest petitions by bar owners, bar girls, activists and NGOs challenging the government legislation was unhappy with the dual stand of the government. The court had said that the law "did not violate the dancers' or bar owners' right to life or freedom of speech and expression", as claimed by the petitioners but the HC had taken exception to the fact that the state government was restricting dance performances only in dance bars, restaurants and permit rooms, while a l l owing hotels, clubs and discotheques to continue with these.
The judges had said that this did not have any connection with the object of the ban which, according to the government, was "to prevent dances which are obscene, vulgar or immoral and derogatory to the dignity of women".
The Supreme Court verdict of 2013
Supreme Court clears way for running of dance bars in Maharashtra
Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | Jul 16, 2013
NEW DELHI: Seven years after they were banned, dance bars can again run in Maharashtra with the Supreme Court today upholding a Bombay high court verdict quashing the state government's order.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice S S Nijjar also vacated its stay order on implementation of the high court judgement.
The Maharashtra government had in 2005 brought in an amendment in the Bombay Police Act which was challenged in the high court by an association representing restaurants and bars.
The high court in 2006 had quashed the government's decision. The state government had moved the apex court against the high court's order that same year.
The Supreme Court while admitting the government's plea had stayed the high court's verdict.
In its plea, the state government had contended that prostitution rackets were being run under the garb of beer bars and indecent and vulgar performances, "derogatory to the society" were taking place.
The government had also contended that while there were only 345 licenced dance bars, about 2500 unlicenced bars were doing business in the state.
On the other hand, various organisations representing dance bars, restaurants and bar girls had argued that the preamble of the Bombay Police (Amendment) Act, 2005, which had been struck down by the high court as unconstitutional, holds that dance performances for public amusement were permissible.
These organisations had also submitted that there were over 70,000 women engaged in dance bars and several of them had already committed suicide due to unemployment and financial crunch.
They had said that with as many as 72 per cent of the bar girls being married and 68 per cent being sole bread earners of their family, the state government's order has rendered them jobless and had been rightly struck down as arbitrary and unconstitutional by the high court.
They had also contended that the impugned section of the Act was arbitrary and discriminatory as it permitted dance performances at places visited by the rich and well-to-do sections of the society while performances in small dance bars had been banned.
Ban on dance bars ‘reflects lack of thinking’
New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and justice S S Nijjar said the Maharashtra government’s ban on dancing girls reflected a lack of thinking to search for viable alternatives for the women, and resulted in large-scale joblessness among them.
“The restrictions in the nature of prohibition cannot be said to be reasonable, inasmuch as there could be several lesser alternatives available which would have been adequate to ensure safety of women than to completely prohibit dance. In fact, a large number of imaginative alternative steps could be taken instead of completely prohibiting dancing, if the real concern of the state is the safety of women,” Nijjar said, authoring the main judgment.
Agreeing with him, Kabir said the expression “the cure is worse than the disease” came to mind immediately as many dance girls who lost their livelihood because of the complete ban on dance bars had been forced into prostitution.
“The state has to provide alternative means of support and shelter to persons engaged in such trades or professions, some of whom are trafficked from different parts of the country and have nowhere to go or earn a living after coming out of their unfortunate circumstances,” the CJI said, while suggested putting in place a “strong and effective support system”
RIGHT TO JIVE
SC says Maha govt ban an overreaction, rendered dancers jobless, forced many into prostitution
Instead, wants govt to ensure safety and improve working conditions of bar girls
Maha govt can still put curbs on dance bars to prevent obscenity if it so wishes