April 19, 2005
Maharashtra’s chief moral policeman R R Patil may declare his intent to shut down 1,450 dance bars, but it would interest him to know that in the 34 years since a Chinese dancer was arrested for a striptease, no one’s actually heard of a jail term for obscenity.
There have been hundreds of raids and cases filed during the Congress’ previous and current term, but a 1971 striptease—and a confession, ‘‘I removed my top gown’’—by Joyce Zee, alias Temiko, in a Colaba nightclub named Blue Nile reveals how little has changed legally.
Decoy policemen reserved front row seats, as they do now, sat through Temiko’s performance and later slapped obscenity charges under Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
This is how the judgement read in 1971: ‘‘If the State wants to prohibit such cabaret shows as wrongful exploitation of sex or as socially harmful, or indecent, it will have to enact some special legislation.’’
Patil’s overnight ban is likely to be brought into force without any legislation, which means that it will likely be dragged to the courts immediately. That only indicates how ill-planned the moral offensive has been.
Temiko, who stated that well-travelled and mature patrons would not be depraved or corrupted—‘‘much less annoyed’’—by her show, was acquitted.
Three decades later, other dancers from Blue Nile were hauled back to court on the same charges of obscenity, and the same result in court—in 2004.
• The sheaf of licences in every bar is contradictory and a stockpile of possible offences for raiding police parties: Premises licence. Granted by the police, says closing time is 12.30 am
Borivali bar dancer Nikita Potdar remembers the night of February 25, 2004: in the lock-up, the mosquitoes, the abuse from officers. About 1,600 other dancers, employees and customers joined her after raids on 52 Mumbai dance bars to stop ‘‘obscenity’’.
After rigorous interrogation—focussed mainly on why the dancers wore gande kapde (revealing clothes)—the owner sprung them on bail after 24 hours. That night it was back to the grind, dancing four hours non-stop.
‘‘Trial may begin after years,’’ shrugged proprietor Pravin Kumar Aggarwal of Ellora Bar where Potdar (22) works. ‘‘How many girls will still be around?’’
More than six months after the raids that snared dancer Potdar, 28 chargesheets had been filed. Two ended in acquittal.
One order pointed out: ‘‘…none of the independent witnesses’ names have been mentioned in the chargesheet itself, and no panchnama is drawn.’’
The First Information Reports—even those contemplating charges under Section 294 of the IPC, which stipulates that a complainant should be ‘‘annoyed’’ by the obscenity—roped in policemen to play complainants.
The police changed their strategy soon after when 16 bars were raided on March 27, 2004, leading to eight chargesheets. This time, the police exhibited enough premeditation to chalk into the plan informants—who could be ‘‘annoyed’’ at the obscenity of ‘‘ardhnagn’’, or semi-nude girls in chaniya cholis.
Don’t ban We’re the country of the Kama Sutra. Why do we have a problem about sex? Prostitution should be legalised too. I’m ready to hit the streets to support the bar girls. We’re depriving artistes of their bread and butter.
The moral police tried to ban rock. Then they said, ‘No hugging and no kissing.’ The city is getting more and more prudish. I’m not a dance bar freak, but everything banned just goes underground.
It’s sad and a little hypocritical. At one end we claim that Mumbai is the most advanced city in the country, where women are safe. On the other hand, we put restrictions like these. Bar dancing is a profession and I don’t think anyone should have a problem with it. This appears like political manipulation.
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