Supreme Court upholds Bombay High Court order of 2006 quashing the ban

Dance bar owners in Mumbai heaved a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Bombay High Court order of 2006, which quashed the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars.

“It is a big relief to the thousands of bar girls and lakhs of staff members who faced unemployment after the … government order,” said Manjeet Sethi, president of the Bar Owners’ Association.

According to an estimate, in 2005 when dancing was banned, around 75,000 women were working as bar girls. More than 1.5 lakh others were dependent on dance bars for employment. There were around 2,500 bars running in the State without licence, according to the government’s submission in the court.

In 2006, the High Court quashed the order, questioning the government’s motive for the ‘unreasonable’ ban. The court also took exception to the fact that the government was restricting dance performances in dance bars, restaurants and permit rooms, while allowing them in hotels, clubs and discotheques.

“Ever since the ban, we closed down the dancing part and switched to orchestra. We played live music and had to cut down on the staff,” said Robert Menezes, owner of Ram Bhuvan Bar in suburban Mumbai. After the ban, hotel owners had to restrict the number of girls. “Initially, we had 20 girls in our bar, but after the ban, only four were allowed and, that too, as part of orchestra and not as dancers. I wasn’t harmed much financially, but those girls who became jobless suffered a lot,” he said. Many entered prostitution.

Heena (name changed), who worked in an orchestra bar in suburban Mumbai after the ban, told The Hindu that many girls either returned to their native States or stayed back doing petty jobs, some even entering prostitution. “I was fortunate enough as I had a good voice and could sing well. But there were many who couldn’t do so and suddenly lost their source of income. Prostitution was one of the easy ways out,” she said, requesting not to mention her name and the name of the bar where she sings.

According to a bar owner-turned-builder from Thane district, despite the ban, many dance bars ran throughout these seven years. “It was the usual business for us. It was risky, but we managed everyone. After today’s [Supreme Court] order, we can work freely, and even our customers will not have any anxiety,” he said.