While the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against certain regulations imposed on dance bars before they can avail police licences to operate, these establishments are unlikely to resume functioning any time soon.
While bar owners and an association of women performing in dance bars welcomed the SC order, the Mumbai Police said fresh licences will have to be obtained before the bar girls take the dance floors.
The rules governing dance bars, passed by the state government in 2016, will now be discussed once again after the copy of the Supreme Court order is received, said sources in the home department. The government will then announce afresh what conditions bar owners will have to comply with before they can obtain licences from the police.
Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Manjunath Singe said, “We have not yet received the copy of the court order. Once the copy is uploaded and we see the instructions of the court, there will be deliberations at the government level. A policy will need to be formed before we decide on the requirement on granting of licenses.”
Strict police action made many bars move out of city
Even as dance bars were banned in Maharashtra, several legal orchestra bars were used as fronts for running dance bars and faced police action. Over the years, the Mumbai Police, however, saw a reduction in the number of such illegal dance bars operating within the city. As per statistics from the social service branch of the police, 160 cases were made out against dance bars in 2014, 198 in 2015, 93 in 2016, 59 in 2017 and 17 in last year. Officers said that over the years, due to stringent police action, several dance bars had moved out of the city limits.
Varsha Kale, president of the Bar Girls Association, agreed that while the order appears to indicate that bar dancing is now legal, the bar girls may not find employment in the dance bars immediately. “It is an election year, and we are worried there may still be problems in implementation. Bar owners and bar dancers need to draw a contract, and dancers will be daily wagers under the Supreme Court’s direction. We need to ensure the contract is drawn for each dancer and complied with,” she said.
The current situation is not unlike that in 2016 when the Maharashtra government passed a new law on April 13, 2016, listing 26 stringent conditions that bar owners would have to comply with before dance bars could get licences. These conditions included construction of a permanent railing of 3-feet height adjacent to the dance stage, verification of antecedents of all employees by the police and CCTV cameras at the bars’ entrances. Several bar owners had said these conditions actually made it impossible for bars to function. They had approached the Supreme Court to strike down some of these stringent conditions.
In August last year, the Mumbai Police had filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court mentioning that it had received 81 applications from bar owners, which it had rejected as they did not comply with the 26 conditions. Even the licenses provided to three bars earlier — Aero Punjab, Sai Prasad and Indiana Bar — were later revoked for failing to comply with fire safety norms. Then Maharashtra principal secretary Vijay Satbir Singh had himself visited four dance bars to check the fire safety precautions and was not happy with the efforts.
Shabnam Raj (45), a bar dancer for 15 years until the ban, said: “I came from Rajasthan because I loved dancing. After the ban, the girls were forced to just stand in bars like statues, instead of performing.” Raj sent her two children back to her village, unable to provide for them in Mumbai. “I struggled for months. Several girls returned home because there were no jobs.” Eventually, she got a job to sing at a bar in Borivali.
Avinash Shetty, managing the Dilbar bar on Grant Road, said: “We hope the government and police eases the process of obtaining license. Till now, the paperwork and delays have made our business difficult.” Pinki Chaudhary, who lives in Congress House and was earlier a Mujra dancer, said that the ban forced several women to either return to their hometown or opt for other careers. “In the past also, the court has ruled in our favour, but the hardships have continued. If the ban has been lifted, I hope jobs come our way.”
Chairperson of the Maharashtra State Commission for Women Vijaya Rahatkar said the decision was not in the favour of bar girls. “In the past, the government banned bar dancing due to larger public opinion. We respect the SC verdict, but it must be noted that dancers do not have total freedom. Obscenity must be avoided and CCTV cameras installed in bars. We are waiting to see how this is implemented,” Rahatkar added.