The Maharashtra government banned dance bars without any investigation into the way they functioned since they are “against the culture of Maharashtra” and the “social stigma” has a “negative impact on youngsters”.
This is revealed in the affidavit filed by Maharashtra in the Supreme Court in response to a petition seeking quashing of the 2014 law banning dance performances in the state.
Last week, the Supreme Court suspended this provision and directed Maharashtra to grant licences to bar owners.
In its affidavit, the state government argues that soon after the 2013 judgment by the top court striking down an older provision banning dance bars, it wanted a new law and had consulted all political parties.
“The state government was contemplating to ban dance bars after noticing the negative impact on youngsters, who indulged in selling their ancestral properties, getting astounding prices and showering money in dance bars,” says the affidavit.
It also says the ban on dance performances had helped stop “exploitation of poor women from profiteering”. “Existing rules (were) not sufficient to achieve public interest, safety and social welfare.”
The affidavit was filed in reply to a petition by the Indian Hotel and Restaurants Association and others, which had appealed to the court to declare as unconstitutional the legal provision banning dance performances in the state.
The association had asked for copies of findings of investigations conducted by government authorities or research conducted by NGOs that purportedly showed that dance performances led to social problems such as “depravity of mind” and “exploitation of women”.
“In this regard, the state government has replied that since it was a social stigma, no investigation was carried out by the government or NGOs. State government has received complaints from public about the violation of dignity and depravation, corruption, injury to public morals due to dance bars,” read the affidavit.
The state also says the 2014 law was not meant to circumvent the 2013 judgment, and had been enacted as a reasonable restriction.
The amended Section 33A in the Maharashtra Police Act, introduced in 2014, imposed a total ban on dance bars and dance performances in the state. Earlier, Section 33A allowed dance performances in “exempted” establishments like three-star and five-star hotels but banned it elsewhere, on the argument that dance bars were obscene and acted as pick-up points for vulnerable girls. In 2013, the Supreme Court held such a classification between three-star and above hotels and other dance bars to be bad in law and slammed the “elitist” attitude of the state government.
Suspending the 2014 amendment, the top court noted that the state government had re-enacted a legislation similar to 2013 despite it having been struck down.
But while directing the government to issue licences, the court added a caveat that “no performance of dance shall remotely be expressive of any kind of obscenity in any manner” and that “licensing authority can take steps so that the individual dignity of a woman is not affected and there remains no room for any kind of obscenity”.
The case will now be heard on November 6.