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Supreme Court gives new lease of life to bar dancers

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed that there are alternative ways to ensure the safety of bar dancers rather than outlawing dance performances and gave a stay order on a legal provision in the Maharashtra Police Act on the prohibition of entertainment. However, the apex court verdict gave license to the police to take stringent measures if they find performances obscene in nature. It asked the concerned authorities in Mumbai to decide in two weeks on the issue of giving licenses to the bars which allow dance performances.

The Supreme Court order gave a new lease of life to the women who had lost their jobs after Maharashtra State Assembly banned dance performance in July, last year.

“The cure was worse than the disease”

In 2005, the Maharashtra government branded the bars as dens of vice and facade for prostitution and clamped a ban on dance bars. Bar owners, activists and NGOs protested the move and contested the ban, saying that the bars staged dance shows only. The labour union of the dancers apprehended that many dancers would be forced into flesh trade.

Some bar dancers migrated to other cities in search of livelihood. However, the year 2006 witnessed a glimmer of hope for the bar dancers with the Bombay high court ruling that the ban violated the constitutional right to earn a living and was against public interest.

Prior to the ban, Mumbai had a staggering 400 dance bars with over 65,000 women and 40,000 men involved with the profession. Post-ban, the glitzy industry and the government incurred a loss of over Rs 3000 crore. Notably, in 2013, the Supreme Court upheld Bombay HC decision to junk the ban on dance bars in the state.

But did the remedy bring back those who had taken up prostitution?

Being a bar dancer is not easy as ofttimes they have to do what they don’t want to. At the same time ‘realities of life’ push them to an extent where the only option left is to get on with the ‘demands and expectations’ of the job and the customers.’ These demands are more than just seeing the dance, as they can be anything from asking the girl to sit with them, talk to them and even going to the extremities of asking for sexual favours.

Many customers ask the bar dancers to come and sit with them and chat. The empty chat goes on and there are chances when a customer might ask for satiating his libido. Undoubtedly the bar girls operate in a high-risk zone. And cases have been reported of desperados pouncing on them. It is obvious that they dare to share their personal details only after several encounters with the same customer.

Many dance bars even in Kolkata also act as pick-up joints and a forum for flesh trade. It is undoubtedly an alternative income for the dancers who have to willingly or unwillingly sleep with the clients. Many of the deals are fixed up within the bar itself.  The customers are forbidden from touching the dancers without their consent.

Many of the girls are forced into this profession from poor and broken families where the girl is the sole earning member. While an average dancer in a Mumbai dance bar can easily make about Rs 500 per day, her Kolkata counterpart gets around Rs 200 per day. However, providing sexual favours hikes their income at a rate desired by them which elevates them to a higher status in the ‘bar girls’ circle.

Thus, the idea of flesh trade beckons a bar dance right from the time she begins catering to a man’s fantasies. The lure of currency bundles triggers a simple “yes” to a client. Though dance bars do not encourage prostitution yet they turn a blind eye to these happenings.

However, some dance bars, including those in Kolkata, have rooms where customers can spend time with their ‘chosen girl’. Compared to other forms of prostitution, sex via dance bar route keeps the woman in command as the bar takes care of them to some extent.

But protection is not guaranteed in this sort of field where uncertainty is the most certain thing.

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