India’s top court Tuesday overturned an eight-year ban on dance bars in Mumbai by the Maharashtra state government, which said they were degrading and exploited women.
The Supreme Court’s decision upheld a 2006 ruling by the Bombay High Court that said the ban was discriminatory. The groups contesting the ban also said it violated their constitutional right to earn a living.
The government of Maharashtra in 2005 prohibited performances in dance bars, typically restaurants and pubs serving liquor, where owners pay dancers. Patrons can pay the dancers too, via a waiter. Patrons cannot touch the dancers, the petitioners said, according to court documents.
The Indian Hotel and Restaurants Association, the Association of Dance Bar Owners and the Bharatiya Bargirls Union were among those who challenged the state government’s ban in 2005. According to the petitioners, there were 2,500 dance bars in 2005 employing 75,000 women. The state government, however, said there were 307 licensed dance bars in Mumbai with around 4,300 women employed as dancers, waitresses and singers.
The petitioners said the state government’s ban was discriminatory because dance performances were allowed in other places like higher-end hotels and theaters. They also said women dancers wore traditional Indian clothes like sarees and that performances weren’t vulgar.
- Sebastian D’Souza/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
- Women working at dance bars protested against the ban on performances in dance bars in Mumbai, May 3, 2005.
In a reply to the petition, the state argued that dance performances were degrading and that women were being exploited for financial gain by bar owners, according to court documents. The state also said dance bars were detrimental to public health, fostered prostitution and crime, and created problems in the daily life of the customers.
“The provisions are intended to abolish evil and immoral practices,” the state said in response to the 2005 petition.
The ban on dance bars was one of several steps authorities in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, have taken to clamp down on perceived immoral behavior. Last year, police official Vasant Dhoble made headlines after a series of raids on bars, restaurants and hotels.
In one case, law enforcement officials raided the home of a 53-year-old woman on the grounds that she lacked necessary permits for making liquor-filled chocolates.
“We do not see as to why when women dance to earn their livelihood, it becomes exploitation,” the Bombay High Court said when it overturned the state government’s ban on dance bars in April 2006.
The Maharashtra government asked for a stay on the High Court’s order and appealed to the Supreme Court of India. The case in the Supreme Court started in 2006.
Following the top court’s ruling Tuesday, restaurants and bars will have to apply for new licenses before they restart dance performances, according to Veena Thadhani, a lawyer for the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association. The licenses were canceled in 2005.
“The government’s ban had struck down an entire industry,” Shashikant Shetty, head of the Indian Hotel and Restaurants Association of India, told India Real Time. “This is a relief for a lot of people,” he said.
A lawyer for the state government didn’t respond to requests for comment
Source : Wallstreet Journal