Friday, 7 October 2016

Dance Bar (red) For Questionable Moves

Image from Istock

The Maharashtra Government has passed a new law – the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women Act, 2016 to regulate the activities of a dance bar. Bravo! Looks like a bold move by a well-meaning government. However, it seems that the act has not gone down well with the bar owners and ironically the dancers.

Until you see it on celluloid, such issues seem non-existent. With laws and morality detached, dance bar was a thriving industry about 12 years ago.  In 2005, the state government’s ban on dance bars made news. Since then the matter has flared up occasionally and dance bars received a lot of reel space. With the Supreme Court now involved, the matter is in the limelight once more. Yet most of the discussions sound clinical, underlying the fact that many analysts have never visited a dance bar. Speaking of which, are we really eligible to talk about the issue at hand? Yes, we feel. We would like to think of this matter as being in the realm of human rights; right to livelihood and dignity of labour, and thus a matter of concern for everyone.
These girls – the ‘bar dancers’ constitute a very small microcosm of society, living on the fringes with probably double lives. Their numbers have gone down considerably since the 2005 ban on their profession. In the last decade, society and the past regime have pushed them to the brink of social exclusion. Now a new regime, through a new Act attempts at their inclusion and recognition. Yet, instead of a pat on the back, the government is receiving brickbats.

What is so bothersome about dance bars or bar dancers? The level of interference under the garb of regulating business is awkward for these girls as much as for bar owners. These girls are facing society’s ire for the profession that has strong undercurrents of prostitution. Bar owners are in a fix for the law allows them to either have the dancers without serving alcohol, or serve alcohol without the dancers. So, is the issue with the dance or with the bar? As a culture, we frown upon women dancing in public seeing it as an activity for depraved individuals. Earlier, acceptable dance was limited to the classical performances. The category broadened to include certain cinematic performances, gradually covering various styles of dance based exercises. With western influence and ‘modernization’ as we love to call it, we even adapted to discos and pubs accepting people’s innate desire to dance (while mostly drinking) in such set up. Then what is so wrong with dancing in the bars that we need to regulate obscenity and protect dignity of women there? Bar- social drinking is acceptable, drinking at restaurants is too, but drink and watch a dance, you have a taboo.

 Majority of us don’t care two hoots about morality really. Watching explicit dance moves by film stars on TV screens is a common, normal and acceptable. But the same moves in a dance bar setting become vulgar for many others and calls for legal monitoring. Typically, hypocritical of us, we will drink and dance in clubs and house parties, but will rant about falling standards when we see others pay for their drink and watch such a dance in a bar.

The State’s new law with its many questionable clauses is definitely something to talk about.

Would you dance in full view of a dance bar’s CCTV?

Or better still, would you drink and loosen up in front of such a CCTV?

Are such live feeds to the police station absolutely necessary?

Why include clauses which preempt further disasters/crime?

Have we conducted studies to check the impact of these dance bars on crime rates before we throw in the towel?

Is the Act dealing with cross dressers and transgenders dressing up as women in dance bars?

Shouldn’t the girls be allowed to have a say on whether or not they should be employees of the bar/ restaurant/ hotel?

Moreover, whom do we want to protect? And to what extent should we regulate this field?

The girls engaged in the industry would rather have a thriving dance bar industry which will give them a reliable livelihood rather than bans and raids. Aspersions have been cast on the constitutionality of the legislation. And while the matter is subjudice, one would only hope that the Act is in favour of better working conditions and safety of the women concerned. However, by no stretch of imagination should the State assume a position of moral authority nor should the act of entertainment assume criminal overtones.  It is about time that the state must maturely accept the need for legalized and fair adult entertainment.