Dance bars in Maharashtra to return after Supreme Court order? Let's not speak too soon

SC has stayed a state government law which imposed a ban on dance bars. However, given the convoluted history of dance bars, they may not return any time soon.

Neerad Pandharipande October 16, 2015 07:52:26 IST
Dance bars in Maharashtra to return after Supreme Court order? Let's not speak too soon

The imbroglio between the judiciary and the Maharashtra state government over dance bars appears to be going around in circles all over again. In the latest development on the issue, the Supreme Court has stayed a state government law which imposed a ban on such bars, paving the way for them to restart business, at least for the time being.

However, given the convoluted history of dance bars, this may not actually happen any time soon. Bars that hosted dancing performances have their origins in the early 1980s, with the first establishments coming up in the town of Khalapur, a town between Mumbai and Pune, according to IANS. As the underworld syndicates rose to notoriety in Mumbai in the 1980s and 1990s, dance bars were also known for being crucial sources of tip-offs for the police from informers, as pointed in an article in Caravan.

Tarannum, known as the ‘crorepati bar dancer’, became the subject of metropolitan folklore after she faced an income tax raid. However, in 2005, then Maharashtra home minister RR Patil imposed a ban on such bars, saying that they ‘corrupt the younger generation and threaten the cultural fabric of the country,’ as reported by India Today.

Dance bars in Maharashtra to return after Supreme Court order Lets not speak too soon

Representational image. Image courtesy: Reuters

However, the three-star and five-star establishments were exempted from the morality crusade. Taking note of this discrepancy, the Bombay High Court observed, “The object of the legislation was prohibition of dances which were obscene or vulgar… That being the object, can the restriction be said to be in the interest of the general public? Women can still dance in the exempted establishments, women can still participate in tamashas and laavnis. Women can still work as waiters or any other allied jobs in the prohibited establishments.”

The court, noting this, went on to quash the ban. However, the Maharashtra government obtained a stay on the order, which meant that the dance bars would continue to remain shut.

However, after the government failed to convince the Supreme Court that such an order was legally valid (see The Indian Express report here), it again seemed in July 2013 as if the road was clear for dance bars to again become a part of the city’s night life. But this was not to be. Dance bar owners found that regaining licences was a tough proposition, with more than 40 licences required, as reported by The Times of India.

Soon enough, the Maharashtra government decided to legislate its way ahead to enforce the ban, and passed an amendment to the Maharashtra Police Act, putting in place the law. This law addressed the discrepancy between the rules for three-star hotels and five-star hotels. However, the restriction did not extend to family parties in pubs and discotheques, or to orchestras, according to a report in The Times of India.

Thus, the state government has plugged one loophole which had led its first initiative towards banning such establishments to be struck down. However, the other major issue which the Bombay High Court had considered while setting aside the ban in 2006 was the question of employment of the women who had been working as bar dancers. Whether the government can defend its law in the top court will depend partly on how it addresses this point.

The Supreme Court’s order on Thursday is merely a stay on the law, and the final word has not yet been spoken on the matter at the judicial level. What’s more, the court has clarified dance performances which are ‘explicit’ and have ‘any kind of obscenity’ will still be banned. Needless to say, the definition of ‘obscenity’ and explicit nature is entirely subjective in nature. Given the numerous instances of raids on public establishments as well as on people in the privacy of hotel rooms, the level of zeal which the police could display when it comes to dance bars is anybody’s guess.

So, does the Supreme Court order really mean the return of Mumbai’s dance bars?

Going by recent history, this might be a case of speaking too soon.

Updated Date:

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