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Women’s groups demand compensation for bar dancers

bar dancers Bombay

Women’s organizations asks Maharashtra government to remedy the gender bias and caste apartheid practiced by its ban on dance bars and stresses the need for long term development plans

By Team FI

Welcoming the Supreme Court’s verdict, which declared the Maharashtra government ban on dance bars, as a constitutional violation, women’s groups in India have demanded compensation from the state government to the bar dancers who have been out of job since 2005. “Most of the women dancers have incurred enormous loans to cope with the situation during the period of the ban. Many women have been forced to commit suicide or have attempted to do so,” read the statement.

The Maharashtra government imposed a ban on bars where women danced to bollywood songs to entertain customers. The ban was imposed citing an argument that these bars were exploiting women and corrupting young minds. The allegation that these bars were a front for crime and prostitution was contested by both bar dancers and women’s rights activists in the state. According to a survey done by Forum Against Oppression of Women, a feminist group in Mumbai that vehemently opposed the ban, the government decision affected the livelihoods some 75000 women dancers. In 2006, the Bombay High Court had quashed the ban and on 16 July, 2013, the Supreme Court of India upheld the Bombay High Court order.

A press statement signed by several women’s groups and women’s rights activists in India, demanded that the Maharashtra government remedy the gender bias and caste apartheid practiced by its ban on dance bars. According to women’s groups, following the ban, the women dancers had suffered not just massive financial loss but also emotional trauma. Most of them had to withdraw their children from school, as they could not afford the related expenses. In most households, the bar dancers were either the sole or the primary earning member and their family member, including the elderly have not been able to access health care since the women were compelled to stop earning.

Activists also demanded regularization of the working conditions of dance bar women. The Bar Dancers’ Association, Bar Owners’ Associations and women’s organizations had come together to form a grievance cell to look issues arising out of working conditions in dance bars. Women’s groups have demanded that legal authority be granted to this grievance cell so that it could “function as Advisory and Drafting Committee to formulate proper service conditions and look after their implementation…”

Activists strongly condemned police harassment and the act of throwing arrested bar dancers into remand homes. The police began to arrest women indiscriminately during the raids. Some of these women were taken under The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act India (PITA) and put in remand homes. Many of them were languishing in the remand homes in terrible conditions till the intervention by the High Court of Bombay in December 2012. According to activists, these were women who were merely standing and serving drinks, a legal activity even under the law that was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Declaring the government ban as caste apartheid, the press note further stated that a large section of the women dancers come from castes wherein dancing by women of the community was the traditional means of livelihood. “These castes and communities have for generations been denied any opportunity to acquire any other skills. They have been deprived of education and skill-training. In the light of such massive levels of deprivations and denial, most of these women have no other avenue but to enter into their caste based professions. “The Government has made no effort to do away with this caste discrimination. On the contrary, by imposing a ban on dancing in bars, the Government further pushed the women into even greater levels of starvation.”

Women’s groups stressed the need for a long term plan – “a development model that increases rather than reduces options of women. There need to be greater choices for women to choose their livelihood options and employment. Today women and men are forced into occupations that are caste determined, may those be related to sweeping and cleaning, including sewages, carrying of night soil, dance work or sex work.. “It is also the responsibility of the state to devise concrete policies, programs and schemes that aggressively attack the caste system and provide opportunities for people to do work of their liking and choice…”

According to women’s groups, some of the rights that women working in bars need are:

*Monitoring and prevention of entry of children into the bars as dancers or in any other capacity
Safe working conditions and protection against harassment from employers, co-workers, customers, the police and other officials

*Right to dignity and better treatment from employers, co-workers, customers, the police and other officials

*Protection against forced sexual relations and harassment

*Protection against unfair practices of employers and the state

*Right to a fallback minimum remuneration

*Security of earning

*Maternity benefits

*Medical benefits

*Crèche facilities for their children

*Better facilities for good and nutritious food at the dance bar

*Better resting facilities and an agreed upon break time

*Paid weekly off

*Provisions for health and safety

*Access to education, training and acquisition of skill of their choice

*Retirement benefits and post-work life benefits like pensions or superannuation funds.