The ban on dance bars underscored all that has gone wrong with politics and policing in Mumbai
The Supreme Court has finally undone an unfair and hypocritical ban on dance bars in Mumbai. In 2005,the Maharashtra government,led by Home Minister R.R. Patil,worked itself into a fine fury about these establishments,alleging that dance bars bred prostitution and crime,declaring that the state was prepared to forgo excise revenue for the sake of a greater virtue. Though the Bombay High Court struck down the ban in 2006,the state appealed to the Supreme Court,and meanwhile,because of a court stay,hundreds of bars closed,the women working in them were pushed into even more straitened circumstances,while elite versions of the same pleasures carried on. While the state destroyed the livelihoods of those who worked in the dance bars,it had no way to ensure them access to more acceptable jobs. The Supreme Court has rightly ordered the state to concentrate on regulating these establishments better. After all,if it is genuinely concerned about crime and prostitution,it should be making sure the women who work in these bars have greater protections,and it should focus police efforts on crime control,rather than moral oversight.
The big city vitality of Mumbai,the mingling of diversities that made the space so magnetic,is long gone. Maharashtras political parties have tried to outdo each other in blighting the metropolis,with no one to articulate a liberal vision of the citys future. The Shiv Sena and MNS base their politics on exploiting popular cultural anxieties,but the greater blame goes to the Congress and NCP that have ruled the state for long,and have not only acceded,but taken the lead in creating these repressive conditions. Mumbais moral caretakers have frowned upon US-style cheerleaders at sports matches,harassed young lovers,stopped sex education for fears of love gurus,found themselves unable to look at underclad mannequins.
The war on vice has increasingly consumed Mumbai police,even as its primary professional duty of maintaining a fair order recedes as a priority. The force has been coopted by political powers,through control over transfers and postings and in fact,R.R. Patil,the moving force behind many of the bans,is also responsible for warping the mandate of the police. As home minister,he encouraged and stood up for ACP Vasant Dhoble,who raided parties and pubs,enforcing archaic laws by wielding a hockey stick. While these political leaders may be trying to pander to Mumbais conservative strains,they must realise that they are sacrificing freedoms in which all citizens have a stake.