The dance bar case is a peculiar one. On the one hand, courts and media totally favour their existence and the right of bar dancers to their livelihood. On the other, politicians are hell bent to ban them due to various social and moral reasons. Finally, the Supreme Court has decided to set aside the ban on these dance bars, on very strong legal grounds. Yet, the Maharashtra government has said that they support this ban and a fresh media outrage has begun.
I have fortunately been in a position to learn about the case very intimately due to two factors: One, I practised for a decade in an area close to a hotbed of dance bars in Chembur and with my better half, ran a small nursing home there, treating hundreds of bargirls, their relatives, their clients, employees and their owners too. Two, my mother, who is a renowned advocate fought successfully for AHAR (the association of hotel and restaurant owners) and the bargirls’ association in the High Court, and her arguments have been now upheld by the Supreme Court.
My home in the meantime became a veritable battlefield: having seen the kind of havoc dance bars were creating first hand, I whole heartedly supported the ban, while my mother pointed out very strong legal arguments which made it obvious that the ban was not legally sustainable and would definitely be set aside. It is to her credit that she kept all personal beliefs aside and obtained a historic order from the Courts.
My personal experiences with the dance bar industry
I saw family after family devastated by dance bars. They served not just the rich: men from lower middle class and middle class families were their biggest clients, men who would blow up everything they had on bargirls and bankrupt themselves while transferring their wealth to bar owners who consequently became filthy rich, raking in hundreds of crores of unaccounted for wealth.
Having been inside a dance bar as well, I could not understand what it was about them that made people behave in this manner. This was nothing but an addiction much more lethal than tobacco or alcohol that devastate an individual – this addiction ruined the entire family emotionally, morally and financially. The better off customers entered into stable relationships with bargirls – most of these guys were married, and on one occasion there was even a shouting match in our nursing home when a patron getting his keptbargirl treated was spotted by his wife who had come for her treatment.
I witnessed the destruction of hundreds of happy families due to their male members’ addiction to dance bars. Daughters of fathers who were destroying themselves in dance bars went on their own personal rebellions which were no better than what their own parent was doing. To say that there was massive local opposition to dance bars would be an understatement.
It is not true that bargirls were forced into it: most of them had their families staying with them, and they thrived on the substantial income these girls got.Their patron would pay for illnesses of their family members too, and look after their every need. We often hear that due to loss of livelihood many of them would be forced into prostitution. But this again was not true: local nursing homes thrived on MTPs (pregnancy termination) of bargirls who were already de facto prostitutes, and who knew the rates and bargained hard. What was even more shocking, several parents and relatives of bargirls were also diagnosed with STDs and HIV.
The legal arguments against the ban
The ban on dance bars was the brainchild of R RPatil. A worse drafted act probably cannot be found. It stated that illegal dance bars were sprouting up across the state and this menace needed to be stopped. However, this was a body blow to the Government as (a) the Government had accepted that hundreds of illegal dance bars were running without licenses and that nothing had been done to curb them, which was a failure of the state (b) the bars that were sought to be closed were the ones which were running with all legal permissions and not the illegal ones. The ban also excluded five star hotels and other high profile establishments, which was obviously discriminatory – if girls could dance in elite pubs and hotels, why couldn’t they do the same in other establishments? This was a violation of their rights.
The Government had several legal options. They could have simply refused to renew the licenses as it is the prerogative of the Government to issue them. They could have stopped dance performances of this nature across the board instead of bringing in a typically UPA-style discriminatory and badly worded law. They had been repeatedly warned that this law in its current form would be struck down by the court. However, sane advice was ignored.
The Fall of R R Patil
What made it even worse was Mr Patil took the defeat in court very personally and all appeals before him in the capacity of minister were rejected. Several orders passed by him were also set aside by the courts, which passed many strictures against him, to the extent that Patil then stopped conducting hearings himself and appointed a junior officer, who continued in the same vein. The nadir came when Patil started posting police constables in bars every night. They would sit in a corner doing nothing, but their presence was intimidating for customers, many of whom would move out thinking the worst. Moreover, a huge chunk of police force locked up in bars meant they weren’t on the streets doing their job. Frustrated, the bar owners decided to strike back with a simple trick: they got the constables to sign in a register and produced it before the court, which proceeded to give Patil another hammering.
No easy solution
All this happened over several years, and the media slept peacefully through it. But then comes along a statement by the current Maharashtra government that they are against allowing dance bars to function and all hell breaks loose. Dance bars should not exist, but then tobacco, alcohol and drugs shouldn’t either. My personal view in this matter is that the Courts are right, but so are the politicians. Dance bars are a curse of society, and a preventable one. They should not exist, but the means to stop them cannot be a ban.The solution isn’t the kind R RPatil tried to force, and the methods to tackle this social evil need much more deliberation than is currently being done. This is not a matter of livelihood of a few thousand people but of the destruction of several thousand families. A more balanced approach in this regard is desperately needed.
Contributed by: Dr Amit Thadhani (Consulting General & Laparoscopic Surgeon)