Dance bar is a term used in India to refer to bars in which adult entertainment in the form of dances by relatively well-covered women are performed for male patrons in exchange for cash. Dance bars used to be present only in Maharashtra, but later spread across the country, mainly in cities. Dance bars were banned in the state of Maharashta, in August 2005, with the passing of the Bombay Police (Amendment) Act, 2005. Subsequently, the government shut down dance bars. However, many continued to flourish as late as 2011, although in a clandestine way in Mumbai and its outskirts. Mumbai alone had 700 dance bars, at their peak in April 2005 when it was banned, though officially only 307 dance bars existed, the rest were illegal, while the figures for rest of the state was 650 dance bars in total. In all they employed 150,000 people, including 75,000 bar girls. These bars in turn functioned as fronts for prostitution and human trafficking, and after the ban was enforced, no proper rehabilitation program was initiated for the nightclub dancers, known as bar-balas, subsequently many migrated to Dubai and other Middle Eastern countries and trafficking centre shifted to New Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad, while other simply shifted into Mumbai's red-light districts.
The ban was struck down by the Bombay High Court on 12 April 2006, and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in July 2013. The Hindu reported that the number of women employed in bars in Maharashtra was around 20,000 in September 2013. Most of them were waitresses or singers at orchestra bars.
The culture of dance bars began in Khalapur in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, in the early 1980s. The first such bar was called "Baywatch". Nearly 500-600 dancers and bar girls were brought from different parts of Mumbai and Thane in the late afternoon in air-conditioned buses to perform at the venue. The dancers returned home by the same bus, early in the morning. Girls who stayed back with patrons or customers, had to make their own travel arrangements. Khalapur's location, just off the Mumbai-Pune Highway, also worked to its advantage. The rural location attracted little attention for patrons. Dance bars quickly spread to Mumbai and Thane, and the rest of Maharashtra. The first dance bar in Pune district was hotel Kapila International.
Bar girls protested against the Shiv Sena party in 1997, then in power in Mumbai, for introducing a ban on late-night shifts for women. When the protests threatened to grow into a major controversy, the authorities ordered all pubs and bars to close before midnight. The decision affected business for bar owners, and also damaged Mumbai's reputation for night life. Bar girls also protested in 1998, over tips and working hours. They alleged that bar owners kept a large portion of the tips earned by the girls and waitresses, and also beat them up if they tried to find jobs elsewhere.
Mumbai Police carried out a major crackdown on 52 dance bars throughout Mumbai on 24 February 2005, in an overnight operation. Police stated that they had arrested at least 1500 bar girls, employees and customers, of which over 700 were dancing girls. This was the first ever large scale raid on dance bars. Police claimed that the bars were acting as fronts for prostitution, operating beyond their permitted closing time, and selling alcohol without requisite licenses. This was followed by another major crackdown on 27 March 2004. A total of 62 dance bars were raided, and 572 people, including bar girls, bar owners and patrons were arrested on charges of obscenity and prostitution. Policed stated that the J49 pub in Juhu was found operating beyond the stipulated closing time of 1:30 am. Three bars in central Mumbai - Samudra Mahal, Evergreen and Dock Master - were sealed off, and their employees were booked under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act. Bars raided included Basuri and Bumper in South Mumbai; Samudra Mahal, Ocean, Dock Master, Evergreen, Titli, Classic, Madeera, Priyanka, Raj Palace, Green Art, Utsav, Highway, Hardeep Punjab and Tipsy in central Mumbai; Sant Punjab, Antakshari, In hotel, Vaishali and Nand Deep in the Eastern Suburbs; Campus, J-49 pub, Pushpak and Oshiwara in the Western Suburbs; and Meridian, Vishkanya and Sursangeet in northern Mumbai. The two raids, within a short span of time, scared bar owners who claimed that they paid regular bribes to policemen to keep their business running, and alleged that either the police "want us to hike haftas or they want us to fund election campaigns of certain politicians."
On 25 February 2004, following the raid, the Maharashtra government issued a notification restricting persons below the age of 21 from entering dance bars, discothèques and pubs. Bars violating the law would face fines and possible cancellation of licences. The ban, under the Bombay Prohibition Act, was effective from 1 April 2004. The government also ordered all dance bars and pubs named after gods and goddesses to change their names with immediate affect.
On 30 March 2005, then Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister RR Patil announced in the Maharashtra State Assembly that dance bars in the state, except those in Mumbai, would be shut with immediate effect. He was replying to complaints from Vivek Patil, and two other MLAs from the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), who complained that dance bars were "corrupting the youth". Patil claimed that "dance and ladies' bars are wreaking havoc in rural Maharashtra" and "corrupting the moral fibre of our youth". He also announced that a highpower committee of key IAS officials, headed by the additional chief secretary, would decide the fate of Mumbai's dance bars, when it submitted its report within three months. Patil also stated that the government would not issue new licences for dance bars in the state. He claimed that "sufficient" police staff enabled "strict enforcement of rules" in dance bars in Mumbai, which was not possible elsewhere as police units across the state were "short-staffed". The Bar Owners’ Association declared an indefinite strike across the state for all hotels with a liquor permit from April 1, terming it a "political conspiracy against all of us". Dance bars in Mumbai also went on strike to show solidarity with other bars across the state. The state government banned dance bars in Mumbai on 12 April 2005. The state cabinet unanimously supported the home department's proposal to revoke all dance bar licenses. Most of dancing bars at the time, according to a statement made by Patil, in the legislative assembly, were only licensed to operate as eating houses, restaurants or to run permit rooms, but were being misused.
The Maharashtra State Assembly adopted the Bombay Police (Amendment) Bill 2005 amending the Bombay Police Act, 1951, banning "holding of performance or dance of any kind" at "eating house, permit rooms or beer bars" across the state, on on 22 July 2005. On 23 June 2005, Maharashtra Governor SM Krishna had sent back the ordinance to ban bars, stating that he saw "no immediate reason" to sign the ordinance, and demanding that the issue be discussed in the State Assembly. The ban was criticized by MP from Mumbai north-west Sunil Dutt who expressed concern over the future of about 75,000 bar girls who would be unemployed as a result of the ban. Dutt emphasised, "We should leave it to the people whether they want to visit a bar or not. We should not decide for them." The ban also opposed by Congress MP Govinda. Bar girls took to the streets to protest the ban shouting slogans alleging bias and discrimination, and demanding a rehabilitation package. At the time of the ban, there were an estimated 1,400 dance bars in the state (700 in Mumbai, 32 in Raigad district), which employed more than 100,000 bar girls. Pune district had three licensed dance bars, and more than 10 were operating illegally when the ban was imposed.
Starting 15 August 2005, the ban was implemented across Maharashtra. As a result of the ban, the government lost 10-12 lakh per annum in revenue from each of the state’s licenced dance bars, including liquor/restaurant licence fees, entertainment tax, performance licence fees, stage licence fees and excise fees, besides income tax and sales tax. In Mumbai alone 150,000 people, including 75,000 bar girls went out-of-work. Then Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil had initially stated that bar girls would be "rehabilitated", but he backtracked and later stated that since 75% of the bar girls were from other States and as well as Bangladesh, only the Maharashtrian girls would be rehabilitated. However, he did not clarify what "rehabilitation" entailed. Due a lack of a rehabilitation program, within a few short months hundreds of bar girls (bar-balas) mostly illiterate young women sending income back to their families, were out of work, and were forced to turn to Gulf countries like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Muscat, frequented by top executives, and expatriate Indians, and which were experiencing a rise in demand for Bollywood dance numbers (item numbers); other overseas destination were the South-East Asian countries, Malaysia and Singapore. Some moved into other Indian states like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, where in cities like Chandigarh, Shimla, Ambala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur and Bathinda, they even started making a living by dancing in marriages and private functions.
Most girls became "waitresses" providing "waiting" at bars, which is a euphemism for girls offering instant sexual services at a bar. Bars that provide such services are entry bars or silence bars, as opposed to those that play music or "free bars". In these bars, girls are supposed to serve the customer alcohol and provide company, but is also obliged to provide sex if the customer demands it. A waitress is paid Rs 1,300-1,500 a month (in 2006), significantly lower than the Rs 15,000-25,000 she could earn at a dance bar. Bar girls would also have to now work two shifts, instead of only at night and is allowed three hours overtime. Some bar girls started dancing at mujras For example, by November 2005, some 5,000 former bar girls from across Mumbai leased out rooms with the help of brothel madams and brokers in and around Foras Road, near Kamathipura, and started performing improvised versions of the mujra every night. Another hub that crept up during this period was Congress House near Kennedy Bridge, on Grant Road, which has been city's oldest address of mujra performers, which embraced the bar girls' into their folds. Some bar girls called to dance at private parties, and often provide sexual favours, especially at places with many farmhouses or just off the highway, such as Lonavla, Khopoli, Dahanu and Gorai.
In many cases though, girls who could find other modes of income, moved to outright prostitution in order to survive, in Mumbai's red-light districts, like Kamathipura Some of the bar girls who had become prostitutes named a service after RR Patil called the RR Package. The women saw Patil as responsible for forcing them into prostitution. Varsha Kale, who heads the Bar Girls’ Association, said about the service, "The package comes with one room at a Navi Mumbai lodge, one girl and three condoms. It costs Rs 1,000 a night." Some even committed suicide in despair , as they did not receive rehabilitation from the state. The dance bars themselves had to attempt to make ends meet by hosting live singing troupes or live bands.
Anil Gaikwad, legal adviser for Indian Hotel and Restaurant Owners' Association, citing a government study stated that some 50,000 to 60,000 women and 40,000 men lost their jobs as a result of the ban. Some of the women killed themselves, and 40% entered prostitution. Police records since the ban show that a number of former bar dancers were found hanging, or having consumed poison. Some also worked in spas and massage parlours. Dance bars converted into regular bars, restaurants, orchestra bars, or sold their property or shut down. Gaikwad said that, "About 20-30 per cent converted their bars to family restaurants. But the competition is very tough and a number of them were forced to shut down. Some others converted to orchestra bars. Only four performers were permitted at a time. So bar owners also had to distribute weekly performance slots among the singers. This reduced the women's income to Rs 500-600 a week." Gaikwad also stated that, "For eight years in a row, the state lost an annual Rs 3,000 crore that it had earned from dance bars." Praveen Agarwal, general secretary, Bar Owners' Association stated that the excise department had written to the home department about the loss of revenue. Agarwal said that, "Nobody can deny that the state stands to gain and so does the industry as the footfall in a dance bar converts into increased consumption and sale of liquor." Besides excise from liquor sales, each dance bar paid an excise fee of Rs 3,65,000 for a 12-month term and Rs 1,80,000 a year for a performance licence, which allowed it to feature women dancers and stay open till midnight.
Following the ban, there were sporadic raids on dance bars, with arrests being made. The largest raid on dance bars since the August 15 ban, occurred on 3 March 2006, when Mumbai Police raided Commando Bar in Chembur and Natraj Bar in Tilak Nagar, and arrested 53 dancers and 89 men, including patrons and staffers on charges under the IPC sections for obscenity. In the following years, most known dance bar were either demolished or shut down by municipal corporation, but they moved into the outskirts of the main Mumbai city, into areas like Kashimira on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway 8, Vasai and Mira Road in Mira-Bhayandar suburb, where numerous illegal dance bars mostly in residential areas also serve as pick-up joints, were demolished in an extensive drive in late 2010, and numerous arrests were made including bar girls, customers and employees of bars. Many bar owner experiencing a drop in revenue started sending former bar girls on 'assignments' overseas. Agents continued to solicit out-of-work bar dancers from hubs like Congress House (Banarasi slum) Congress House near Kennedy Bridge on Grant Road, Mira Road, Banaras ki Chawl, Thane and Oshiwara. As a result, by 2011, bars in the Middle East, which were once dominated by girls from Russia and East European countries now replaced by bar girls from India, and mostly Mumbai. Gradually immigration officials in Mumbai stepped up their vigilance against allowing single, unaccompanied girls with passports now had Emigration Check Required (ECR) stamped, this made travelling out of Mumbai increasingly difficult, thus the transit point for trafficking bar girls, shifted from Mumbai to New Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad.
Dance bars were also seen as a tourist attraction and a highlight of Mumbai's nightlife. Tourism, both domestic and international, mostly from the Middle East, earned revenue for the government. Other livelihoods that were affected by the ban on dance bars included beauty parlours, taxi drivers and a small industry of tailors that stitched Indian ghagras worn by most bar girls.
Supreme Court verdict
On 12 April 2006, the Bombay High Court struck down the amendment banning dance bars terming it as "unconstitutional", and ruling that the ban was discriminatory and violated the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution by prohibiting dances in certain establishments while permitting them in some others. It also ruled that the government's move failed to qualify as a "reasonable restriction" under Article 19 (6) of the Constitution and that it was in fact unreasonable. The ban had been challenged by nine petitioners including the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (AHAR), Dance Bar Owners' Association (DBOA), Bharatiya Bar Girls' Union (BBGU) and other associations of bar-owners and bar dancers, women's activists and NGOs. AHAR stated in the court that the ban had affected about 2500 establishments in the state and left around 75,000 bar dancers unemployed. Justice F I Rebello and Justice Roshan Dalvi struck down the law as it prohibited dance at a certain class of establishments, while exempting drama theatres, cinema theatres, auditoriums, sport clubs or gymkhanas, three star and above hotels, or any other establishment getting special permission from the state government for the purpose of tourism or cultural activities. However, dance bars were not allowed to re-open immediately, as the state government was given eight weeks to appeal against the judgment in the Supreme Court.
RR Patil told the Maharashtra State Assembly on 13 April 2006 that the government would appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court admitted the state government's petition challenging High Court verdict on 10 May 2006, and also continued the stay on grant of licences permitting dance bars. The Supreme Court upheld the Bombay High Court verdict on 16 July 2013. The Court vacated its stay order on implementation of the High Court judgement and permitted bars to reapply for their licences and reopen. The verdict was described by the media as a major embarrassment for Patil, who had spearheaded the ban.
Bar owners began applying to the police for the restoration of licences required to run dance bars from 20 July 2013. As of 5 September 2013, at least 200 bar owners had applied for licences to operate dance bars. However, the licences were not processed by the police, which prompted the owners of 200 bars to send a reminder notice to the police department on 14 August 2013, asking why they were being denied the licences even after the Supreme Court had lifted the ban. Dance bar owners have also threatened to file a contempt petition in the Supreme Court. The deputy commissioner of police (headquarters-I) stated that they were awaiting "suitable guidance from the state regarding the SC order" and assured that they would "process the applications expeditiously" upon receiving the instructions. Mumbai Police received 80 applications for dance bar licences in the city, as of 4 September 2013. Sharada Raut, deputy commissioner of police, in charge of issuing performance licences, stated that the police had "approached the state home department for instructions on the future course of action."
Despite the Supreme Court verdict, home minister RR Patil said that the state government would do its best to ensure that its ban on dance bars stayed. Patil stated that his department received a draft on 5 September 2013, prepared by the advocate general, to ensure that dance bars are banned in the state. The state government is working on an ordinance to ban dance bars. Another option being considered is making getting licences more difficult by adding stringent conditions and making the annual licence fee unaffordable.
Most bar girls are illiterate. According to a dance bar owner in the Western Suburbs of Mumbai "the girls, they tended to be out-of-towners, from the nomadic tribes of northern India, especially around the Agra region, from the Bhedia, Bhatu, Dhanawat, Gandharva, Chhari Rajnat and Nat communities. The girls from these communities are barely educated and from the age of five onwards, they are just trained to be dancers. In northern India, they perform during marriages and other festival occasions at the homes of rich patrons. The Mumbai dance bars opened up a new avenue for them."
Bar dancing in India, markedly differs from erotic dancing and nightclub dance in the Western world and some parts of the Eastern world. In a way, it is more similar to bellydancing performed as entertainment. The dancers, known as bar girls, remain significantly clothed throughout the performance, showing at most some midriff, part of the back, and bare arms. Therefore, the erotic aspect of bar dancing is mostly achieved through suggestion. In Maharashtra, bar dancer attire is often ethnic Indian (sari or lehenga-choli), whereas in some other places, such as Bangalore, it may include Western garb. The bar dances are often compared to mujras, wherein women would dance to live classical Indian music, traditionally performed by tawaif (courtesans) during the Mughal era.
Bar girls dance to Bollywood and Indipop numbers on a colourfully lit dance floor, in the central focus of a dance bar's seating arrangement. Patrons sit in chairs lined up against the walls of the room. The dancing is minimalist kind and features no pelvic thrusting and bosom heaving seen typical Bollywood dance, nor any belly-dancing or suggestive gyrations. Most of the time, bar girls reservedly sway to music, in a movement designed for the conservation of energy, until they find a patron whose attention they wish to attract, or are called upon by a patron. They then dance in front of the patron, making fleeting eye contact, pointing, gesturing, or generally making their targeted patron "feel special". No bodily contact between the two is allowed, and the bar dancers often stay within the confines of the dance floor. Male waiters hover over patrons and dancers who get too close to each other, both to oversee transactions between the two as well as ostensibly to prevent sex-for-money deals being made. Patrons sometimes shower bar girls with currency notes, which generally results in more animated dancing.
The patron showers his favoured dancer with currency notes. He does this either by handing over nominal denominations of cash (10 or 20 rupee notes), or through an act known as "scratching", where he holds a wad of currency notes above his dancer and rubs notes off the wad down upon the dancer. In some cases, he would even garland the dancer with rupees. Many bar dancers are able to make hundreds of rupees a night in this way, thanks to generous, well-off, and possibly inebriated patrons. At the end of the day, each girl's earnings are counted and split in some predetermined proportion between the dance bar and the girls. The dance bars also make money through the sale of alcohol and snacks. Most women earned up to 10000 (US$150) a month, this attracted women from all over India and even as far away as Nepal and Bangladesh, especially as dance bars was considered by them as a safer way to make a living, than working in the Mumbai's red-light district.
Income depended on the popularity and status of the bar girl. The Hindustan Times reported that the less popular girls were given 60% of the amount showered on them. It also stated that popular girls received a monthly salary of 1-3 lakh, while the bar owner kept all the money showered on them. However, a dance bar owner in the Western Suburbs of Mumbai estimated that the sharing of tips in dance bars between bar girls and management was on a ratio of 70:30, with the management also providing transport, security, food and other amenities.
Social and economic aspects
In order to obtain a performance licence to run a dance bar, a person must make an application with details including the site plan, location of the bar and area around it. According to the Bombay Police Act, 1951, the bar owner should not have a criminal record. The bar should not be located in a residential area, and should be 75m away from any religious place, hospital, educational institution or other bar. The licence fee is 1.8 lakh (US$2,800) annually. Dance bars were initially permitted to stay open till midnight, but in 2000, the government issued a resolution extending the deadline to 1:30 am. However, this was changed to 12:30am, following the rape of a minor at Marine Drive, Mumbai in 2005.
Dance bars have also drawn the ire of the infamous Indian moral police, especially in the state of Maharashtra. They have been charged with morally corrupting society, exploiting men and siphoning money away from the latter's families, having connections with criminal elements , as well as being fronts for prostitution . The dance bars and their supporters have countered with the demand that dances by women as performed in elite hotels, clubs, public shows, and gymkhanas, presently exempted from the government's list of targets, be tarred with the same brush . Some have even pointed out the racy item numbers of Bollywood films as examples of hypocrisy on the part of the state and their other opponents.
Dance bars outside Maharashtra
Dance bars exist in other parts of India, although they are illegal.
On 4 June 2006, the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police busted the El Dorado dance bar in Hotel Rajdoot on Mathura Road, and arrested 13 dance bar girls and one of the hotel owners on charges ranging from obscenity to immoral trafficking and abetment. The girls were aged between 20 and 30 and came from lower-middle-class families. Four of them were from Delhi, two each were from Bihar, Noida and Punjab and one each from Kolkata and Allahabad. The girls had previously been employed in Mumbai dance bars, but shifted to Delhi after those establishments were banned.
Singing, dance and orchestra was banned in bars in Hyderabad and Cyberabad in 2008, and cases have been booked against violators. Since then, dance bars in the city dance bars have operated as regular bars. At its peak, in Hyderabad alone, there were 2,000 artistes including male and female singers and musicians, who performed at around 100 dance and singing bars under both commissionerate limits. Following the Supreme Court verdict regarding dance bars, the Orchestra Artistes Association in the city decided to take up the issue with the government and approach the Andhra Pradesh High Court citing the judgement.
- Indian scamster Abdul Karim Telgi spent nearly 93 lakh (US$140,000) in one night at a dance bar in Grant Road, Mumbai in November 2002.
- Matka kingpin Suresh Bhagat's son Hitesh allegedly spent 2 lakh (US$3,100) per night for two years at dance bars.
- Samajwadi Party MLA from Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh Mahendra Singh, along with five other persons, was arrested and booked under the Anti-Prostitution Act by Goa police on 26 August 2013 following a raid at a dance bar in Panaji. Police said they arrested Singh from a "mujra" party at a hotel, and six women dancers who were "rescued", were prostitutes called from Mumbai, Delhi and Chandigarh. Singh later told the media that he was not ashamed about the incident saying, "In UP and Bihar, women dancers perform on every occasion. From the time of mundan, engagement and marriage, we have women who dance to music. Why should I be ashamed of it?"
- A bar girl allegedly died during a raid of the Ellora Bar and Restaurant in Borivli, Mumbai by the Social Service (SS) branch of the Mumbai Police, around 10PM IST on 31 August 2013. Kasturba Marg police registered an accidental death report for investigation. However, the bar management claimed that the police had assaulted a bar employee during the raid, which created panic and the bar girl died due to a heart attack. Bar owner Pravin Agrawal said that, "We have CCTV recording of the entire incident. But the police have taken every thing into their custody and even seized the mobile phones of the bar employees. They are not allowing me inside and I am unable to contact my employees."
In popular culture
- The life of women working in dance bars was portrayed in the 2001 Bollywood film Chandni Bar, directed by Madhur Bhandarkar. The movie depicted a grim picture of life for the bar girls who become victims of the underworld, police and bar owners.
- Deepika Padukone will play the role of an out-of-work bar dancer from Maharashtra during the time of the ban in the 2014 film Happy New Year.
- Deepa Bar
- Article on dance bars
- Ban on dance bars in Maharashtra
- Maharashtra High Court topples dance bar ban
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