Bar Dancers Speak: Testimonies at Public Hearing
Duration: 00:09:23; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 17.778; Saturation: 0.260; Lightness: 0.225; Volume: 0.127; Cuts per Minute: 1.703; Words per Minute: 80.992
Summary: Dancing at beer bars started in Maharashtra in the ‘70s. These bars are popularly called Dance Bars. They were recognisable by the heavy door at the entrance and by the uniformed bouncers. In order to increase the revenue from alcohol sale the govt. kept issuing licenses for the dance bars and over the three decades these bars sprouted all over the state and specially in Bombay. In 2005 the Govt. proposed a bill to ban dancing at the bars on the pretext of public morality. But by then around 75,000 women were employed in the unorganized sector of bar dancing. Most of these women were migrants from the other parts of the state, country and the subcontinent. The proposal sparked a huge public debate on the issues of morality, sexuality and livelihood. The home minister in the state govt. R R Patil took it as a mission and persuaded it till the end. The civil society got vertically divided on the issue. While all the right wing outfits supported the ban, some old school women’s organizations too were vocal against bar dancing based on the argument of commodifying women’s body. Some feminist groups and other social movements campaigned against the ban foregrounding issues of right to livelihood, validity of sex based works and against moral policing. Amidst the frenzy of campaign and counter campaign the govt. implemented the bill on the midnight of 15th August 2005, the independence day of India. The act which rendered 70,000 women jobless was passed unanimously in the assembly, where all members including the communist party and women from various political parties cheered and voted for the bill. In the history of Indian democracy there are a very few bills that was passes with such absolute agreement. There were many theories for the Govt.’s motive to ban dance bars. Some says that it was a ploy to decrease the sale of beer and boost the outreach of wine as the wine industry had just started picking up in Maharashtra and many senior politicians were stake holders in wine industry. Some other claim that it was a populist measure to woo the middle class voters. Another theory ascribed the operation as an exercise to evict smaller eateries and pubs to make space for big franchises and multi-purpose eateries. It could also be a simple act of gentrifying the city.
Throughout this period the most active campaign against the ban was from the bar dancers union in collaboration with some feminists groups. Majlis legal centre filed a case challenging the ban in the Bombay high court on behalf of the bar dancers’ union. There were also other petitions from the Bar owners’ association, women’s groups and others. The Women’s Study dept., SNDT University along with Forum against oppression of women conducted a survey around the bars in the city and published the report in order to inform the general public. The media too covered the issue quite extensively. On 12th April 2006 the Bombay High Court struck down the ban as unconstitutional. The Govt. appealed to the Supreme Court and thus affectively kept the bar closed inspite of the High court order. Presently the case is subjudiced. Still the initial win in the High Court in the face of such heightened morality campaign meant a lot.
In the intermediary period of the implementation of the ban and the High Court judgement, three city organizations Majlis, Pukar (Gender and Space unit), and Point of View organized a public hearing on the issue at KC College suditorium. Ten eminent citizens from various walks of life were invited to serve in the panel of Jury and hear the live testimonies of the retrenched dancers. The auditorium of around 700 capacity was chock-o-block with 500 bar dancers, members of bar owners association, family members of the bar dancers, concerned citizens and a large media presence. After hearing the bar dancers the jury made a statement which was later presented in the court. In this event the jury is being introduced.
Post the ban on dancing in the dance bars, Pukar, Point of View and Majlis organized a public hearing on the issue at KC College auditorium. Beginning of the programme – the bar dancers are slowly gathering in the hall.
bar dancers speak
point of view
KC College, Bombay
bar dancers speak
bar girls association
bar owners association
point of view
The event Bar Dancers Speak. Top angle stray shots of people coming in – bar dancers, bar owners, women's rights activists, large number of media personnel. The large hall of around 700 capacity slowly filling up. Many bar girls, feeling hesitant in such a formal set up, are sticking their hordes.
Announcer Paromita (P): If everybody can settle down, we can start the public hearing soon. I would like to introduce the purpose of this public hearing. Many people are wondering about the reason of this programme now that the law has already been passed. First thing is that just because the law had been passed, we don't have to think that it's written in stone. All laws can be changed and can be reverted too. For that to happen it is important that big mass of citizens say that they have an objection to the law and they want some changes to be made. It's important for all citizens to say this, rather than only people who are affected by the law, like bar dancers, protesting against the ban. Presently, there are cases that have been files in the courts by bar owners association as well as bar dancers association, saying that this law is wrong, arbitrary and that it has been done without any thought or discussion. Government does not have a right to say what is good and what is bad. Government has to give people the right to livelihood. The government has to increase the choice for people and not decrease the choices. And it's important that each of us get involved, because today we are here to support the bar girls as they speak for themselves, but it's also true that tomorrow we might be here to speak for ourselves. Because these are the things that pertain to freedom of political expression, freedom of expression in the arts, and they touch every one of our lives as artists and citizens. And if we want to defend what Bombay stands for as a free city, where anybody can come and earn a livelihood using their skills. Second reason for organizing this programme is because till now we have only heard organizations' voices and political leaders opinions , but we haven't heard much from the bar dancers. We have always seen the bar dancers represented in the media only dancing, but we have not heard them speak for themselves and state their case and speak as citizens and workers. We have today a jury for today's programme who are from different professions and are eminent citizens of the city. Then 10 women who represent bar dancers organization would come up and speak. After that the jury will retire to make a statement. There will be a Q&A. anybody who has a question can ask questions of bar dancers or women's activists. We are filming the entire programme and the video tape would be sealed as soon as the programme is over, and it would be presented in court as evidence along with the statement that the jury would come up with at the end.
Shot of the stage. A long vertical banner with slogan Worker / Performer / Citizen: Bar Dancers Speak -with images of a set of female hands transforming from delicate classical dance gesture to strong and demanding fists is being hung. The banner is designed for the occasion by artist Tushar Joag. By now the hall is almost full.People are wearing a red and white badge proclaiming: Livelihood / Performance / Dignity (with running slogan ) Support the Bar Dancers. Some people are also wearing specially designed dupattas with printed slogans: Right to Livelihood, Performance and Citizenship. The badge and the dupattas are designed by artist Shilpa Gupta. The programme starts with Paromita Vohra, the comparer introducing the event and explaining the need to hold this public hearing inspite of the ban already been implemented.
bar girls association
bar owners association
expression in the arts
protest against ban
Paromita: Today's slogan is (hum veer bala bhi hain, hum bar bala bhi hain) We are the brave women / we are the dancing women. (Hum hain kalakar, rozi, roti, izzat ke haqdar) (We are artists / 've a right to livelihood and respect)(Slogan raising from the audience).I am going to introduce the jury one by one in alphabetical order. Arundhati Subramanium, who is a poet, and also the head of the Chauraha programme at the National Centre for the Performing Arts(NCPA). Dolly Thakore is a very well known theatre artist. Kiran Nagarkar, he is a beloved novelist of all Bombaiites. He has written Ravan and Eddie, Cuckold and in marathi Saat Sakkam Trechalis (Seven Sixes are Forty-three). Lakshmi Lingam is a professor at the unit of Women's Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Nandini Sardesai who has recently retired as the head of the department of Sociology from the St. Xaviers college and she continues to teach in the BMM courses at JaiHind, KC and Wilson. Naresh Fernandez, he is the editor of Time Out, Bombay. Shireen Ratnagar who gave up her professorship in at JNU when it stopped being fun. She now does research and teaching in different places. Sudhir Mishra, a very well known film maker. We all have seen his films. Is raat ki subah nahin, and more recently, Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi. Sanjay Singhvi, who is a trade unionist, political activist and advocate. And he is General Secretary of Trade Union Centre of India. We have one more jury member, Prahlad Kakkar, he is a well known advertisement maker. He is delayed in traffic and would be joining us shortly.
The comparer tries to energise the audience by some slogan shouting. She introduces the jury members as they take their seats on the stage. The jury of poet, novelist, journalist, educationist, academic, filmmaker, social worker, actor, advertising professional and trade unionist. Some look little apprehensive, yet others were confident. The gulf in the social status between the eminent jury and the bar dancers was too large to cross in one evening. The bar dancers might not even have ever heard of these famous people since they were not part of the mass cultures. The reason why this set of people was invited to serve as jury was that they have never compromised on their values for the commercial and populist gains. The irony is that the qualities which had earned them eminence and why they were invited to be in this panel itself had made their works inaccessible to the people like bar dancers. It reflects the complexity of popular culture and social issues in our country.
hazaron khwaishen aisi
is raat ki subah nahin
raven and eddie
saat sakkam trechalis
tata institute of social sciences
trade union centre of india
Translation of the English introduction in Hindi.
Translation of the introduction in hindi for those who do not understand English
bar dancers speak