SC modifies law imposing restrictions on dance bars in Maharashtra

In a relief to dance bar owners and employees, the Supreme Court on Thursday quashed some of the stringent rules prescribed by the Maharasthra government that led to the virtual shutdown of the establishments in Maximum City.

A Bench led by Justice A.K. Sikri did away with some mandatory conditions imposed by a 2016 State law like the installation of CCTV cameras at the dance area as a violation of privacy.

The court set aside the condition that only persons of good character would be allowed to run dance bars, saying the term “good character” is too vague.

'Dance and liquor can coexist'

Dance and liquor can coexist and there is no need to segregate the area where liquor is served to patrons from the dancing area, it said.

The court also refused to see eye to eye with the State that barred dance bars from within one km radius from educational institutions and religious places. The bar owners had argued that this was not geographically possible in a city that is as chock-a-block like Mumbai. The court asked the State to make the conditions reasonable.

The court, however, stopped patrons from showering money at the performers. It also upheld the condition that dance bars should operate only between 6 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.

The judgment came on petitions filed by women working in Maharashtra’s bars, including dancers and waitresses, against the constitutionality of the 2016 State law containing a rather explicit definition of what is “obscene” in dance.

The Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016 was passed by the State Assembly to circumvent a Supreme Court judgment of 2015 that ordered dance bars to be thrown open again and classified dance as a profession.

'Law a ruse to circumvent court order'

The Bench had expressed its suspicion that this law was just a ruse to “circumvent” the apex court’s order of October 2015.

The Act said an ‘obscene dance’ consists of “a sexual act, lascivious movements, gestures for the purpose of sexual propositioning or indicating availability of sexual access to the dancer, or in the course of which, the dancer exposes his or her genitals or, if a female, is topless”.

Legal experts said terms used like “lascivious movements”, etc., was at best vague and exposes the dancer and her establishment to the whims of the authorities itching to crack down on them.

Along with the petition filed by the Bharatiya Bargirls Union, the court had heard petition by the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (IHRA), challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the 2016 Act.

The bargirls’ union had argued that the 2016 law stigmatises their profession and unreasonably interfered with their free choice of expression through dramatic performances.

“The act of tipping or giving gifts as a token of appreciation has been customary and an integral part of traditional dance culture. This decades-old practice is akin to those performing Mujra, Lavani [traditional Marathi song and dance] or Tamasha [traditional Marathi theatre] where performers earn their living through ‘bakshisi’ offered by the audience as a token of appreciation of the performances,” their petition had said.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had criticised the new law for prohibiting liquor in dance bars as “absurd”, “absolutely arbitrary” and indicative of the State’s mentality which is “absolutely regressive by centuries”.

The 2015 order lifting the ban on dance bars came as a relief for women who had lost their jobs and slipped into prostitution and penury due to the clampdown after the State Assembly, in July 2014, circumvented a 2013 Supreme Court decision that upheld that “dancing is a fundamental right”.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 9:13:09 AM |

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