ARMED WITH a strong legislation and hidden cameras, the Social Service Branch (SSB) of the Mumbai police has been going after dance bars operating on the sly with renewed vigour. Since May 13, when the SSB received a copy of the law passed by the Maharashtra government, it has carried out 13 raids, arrested at least 300 persons and rescued 95 bar dancers.
Prior to the new Act, the Mumbai police could book those running illegal dance bars under mild, bailable non-cognizable sections that carried a maximum imprisonment of three months. The new bill has a maximum punishment of five years and a fine of Rs 25 lakh or both.
A senior officer said that even prior to the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Bars and Hotels and Protection of Dignity of Women Act, 2016, dance bars were banned in the state. “Then, several dance bars still operated stealthily since we could only charge them under section 294 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with ‘obscene songs and acts’. The maximum punishment under this Act was three months. The bar owners did not mind taking that risk,” said the officer. He added, “Now, customers and bar owners are hesitant as they could end up spending at most five years behind bars and fines upto Rs 25 lakh on conviction,” said the officer.
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To ensure conviction, the SSB is also filming the dances on hidden cameras. This works as follows: the police team sends a decoy with a hidden camera attached to his shirt to units where they suspect dance bars operate, according to an officer. The decoy will spend some time there, ensure that he has recorded sufficient sequences of the dance before alerting the police team which immediately conducts a raid. “We need to have some strong evidence to show that there were women dancing on the stage and patrons splurging money and the video clips, we believe, would be strong evidence,” said the officer.
“We then conduct raids and seize all the money that patrons would throw on bar girls that would be lying on the dance floor. We also seize several bundles of Rs 10 and Rs 20 notes that are found in the bar. Why would one keep bundles of Rs 10 and Rs 20 notes? It indicates the notes were given to patrons who would splurge the money on the bar girls,” he added.
Six days after the law was passed on April 13, as soon as the SSB received a copy of the bill, they raided four bars in Mumbai, namely Mehfil Bar in Tilak Nagar, Tejas Bar in Grant Road, Pink Plaza Bar in Andheri and Samudra Bar in Nagpada. Subsequently, the SSB has conducted 13 raids including one carried out at Madhuban bar at Vile Parle on Wednesday night.
The officer said that most of these bars are the ones which have permission to operate as orchestra bars but flout the laws and also have bar dancers. Of the 300 persons arrested uptil now, a majority of them are customers followed by waiters, cashiers and managers.
Currently, there are just three dance bars that have licences to operate. “The bars are however not functioning as dance bars, since the conditions of the new Act are stringent. We suspect rather than applying for licences, the dance bar owners will challenge the new law in the Supreme Court on July 7, when the matter will now be heard,” the officer said.