Bar Dancers Speak: Testimonies at Public Hearing 2
Duration: 00:07:11; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 16.383; Saturation: 0.364; Lightness: 0.141; Volume: 0.180; Cuts per Minute: 21.820; Words per Minute: 93.533
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, three city organisations 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. In this event some bar dancers gave testimonies.
A senior bar dancer speaks of livelihood. There is something very status-quoist and homely in her appearance and her way of speaking. It is difficult to associate her with a profession which involves public appearances and performances. She mentions suicide. Indeed many bar dancers committed suicides in those days. There were also some deaths which were controversial but the police refused to even to do post mortem. It seems they lost citizenship as soon as their profession was termed illegal.
Name unknown: Since the dancing has shut down I am very tense. I don't have my own house, I have to pay Rs. 2000 as rent. With the little money that I have, should I pay the rent or educate my children? I am not experienced in doing any other work. Domestic work requires certificate that I don't have. Both me and my baba (father) are tense. I feel suicidal. I am forced to move from my current home. I only request you to understand bar dancers' problems and make effort to restart dancing in the bars or get some alternative employment for the women.
right to choice of livelihood
KC College, Bombay
bar dancers speak
bar girls association
bar owners association
P: Now Arti would speak. She has been a dancer for fifteen years and has two children. Arti: I have two children. How should I feed them now? R.R. Patil got our work closed down. He did not consider that this work got families and houses running. By doing this he has made us and our families so vulnerable. Should we get our children on streets? He roams around in his car, how would he understand us? He hasn't taken out time to understand how this decision would affect us. Is he going to provide for us now? My just beg of you that you get our bars restarted… that's all.
Unlike many other dancers Arti looked like a more conventional working class migrant. Her speaking style had no frill, it was sparse, functional yet repetitive to the effect of being rhetorical. She looked neither hopeful about the capacity of the Jury nor was she in any awe of them. She might not have ever had an encounter with this class.The jury members looked exhausted by now. It is one thing to participate in a debate and opine for rights to livelihood or against moral policing. But it is completely another thing to actually encounter such a large number of protagonists who have been wronged.
A zoom out shot of banner: Worker / Performer / Citizen: Bar Dancers Speak, at the background of the jury members on the stage. Gudiya (means doll) is a plump homely looking girl. Her basic education reflects in her articulation and precision. Obviously she is a Marathi. She responds to the Govt. declaration that only the girls from Maharashtra would be rehabilitated. The politics of rehabilitation is such that first it breaks the unity of the people over claims on the govt. offers. Then very few people actually get rehabilitated, but by the time they realized it the momentum of the movement usually have diminished. Thirdly more often than not in rehabilitation schemes (which is mostly for displaced artisans and farmers, retrenched workers, 'rescued' sex workers etc.) the earnings from the new vocation turn out to be much less than the previous profession from which they were evicted. So the promise of rehabilitation is more for the govt. to derive a sanction from their constituency than a practical measure.
P: Next speaker is Gudiya. She has studied till standard 9th. Gudiya: I have five younger siblings. I take care of them. If I don't dance, how I am going to provide for my family? I haven't been able to pay school fees for my siblings. How are we all going to survive? They say, they'll get us jobs. I am a bit educated, I might get some job, but what will happen to other bar dancer sisters? So many of us are not educated, and can not do any other work. And are the jobs that they say they will get us, would it pay equal to what we have been earning. How would we survive in lesser earnings?For a week we have been sitting unemployed. There is no money to pay for house, school fees or anything else. Applause.
lack of alternative job
The comparer tries to encourage more girls to speak. For some time there an uncertainity. The scheduled speakers have finished speaking. The others are hesitant to speak spontaneously. Finally Roopali, the young petit girl who have already spoken on stage gets up, maybe to rescue the situation. She generally repeats her earlier points. But this time she adds a new dimension – that if the Govt. must do some compulsory cleansing of the society then they should focus on other sectors -, such as pick up joints, sex work etc – but must spare the dance bars.
P: People who were supposed to come on stage and speak, have done so. If any other women from bar dancers organization wants to speak, please do.You don't have to come on to the stage. You can speak from where you are. Roopali: I would only like to say that R.R. Patil has to reopen our bars. We don't want anything else. Because that is our livelihood. Patils's arguments and questions don't help us to survive. I We want women to earn the way they have been earning. Our request to R.R. Patil is to get the dancing in the bars restarted. What he thinks about us, is his wrong assumption. If he is so keen to clean up the society, he should shut down the wrong places. Our bars should be reopened and our livelihood should be returned to us.
bar dancers organisation
A young girl, with large impressive eyes covers the whole auditorium and comes near the stage to speak. This act itself is extremely significant. The courage and confidence to walk across the long hall under the gaze of so many people and the media would not have happened a few months back. Yet it is more a matter of desperation and not empowerment. The media hovers around her – a visibility that they need and yet dread. The young girl in the top angle shot looks more vulnerable. She herself is very young but she pleads the case of her sister's education. An adult's role of a provider in a young body.The same logic continues that the moral cleansing can happen in some other sectors of the service industry but it must spare them. The general belief was that if they could establish their moral superiority over sex work then they would be allowed a legal status. The irony is that sex work is not illegal in India.
P: Would anyone else from bar dancer organization like to speak?
Name unknown: Hello. I don't what all is happening around us and why. What I know is that this decision of Mr. Patil has been very bad for us.
Annotation 10: The Bar Dancer speaks, narratives in trouble. The entire spectrum of sensory experience from the image on the filmic screen to the bar dance is today imagined as a chaotic space with materiality exploding in all directions, people scattered in desperate want and violence and 'unseeable' acts perpetrated in the midst of chaos. This is the sum of the moralistic public discourse today for a city like Bombay, endorsed by its filmmakers and yet seldom seen in unity by the public itself. What the cinema and the multiple readings of narrative tropes of different kinds of bar dance or the analysis of the becoming ambiguous of sex have in common is the wanton promiscuous mixing of experiential and sensorial categories by which we organize our life's happening around some kind of narrative. These narratives are in grave trouble, the commentators seem to be saying.
All is ambiguous and any sensory experience is perilous to the mind, so they say. In the Bar Dancer's performance domesticity of various configurations (sibling relationships can develop between client and performer), configurations of seductions, transgressions and ecstasies mix with ridiculous ease. As this happens spatial categories such as 'home', workplace', 'street', 'bazaar' or concepts such as 'public', 'private' or the 'intimate' but also 'age', 'sex', 'class', 'person' and so on and so forth become complexified, heterogeneous and heterodox. The narratological variegation of the bar space is important to consider as that of the tapori. These are spaces where lives are lived in the full in all its consumerist complexity that allows residents to access a wide variety of experiential spaces physically or in the virtual. This is something that although I am not presenting here directly I would like to emphasize in reading the wonderful set of images in the collection Zinda Lash. see
The space of the bar or sex workers of various ilk as of the cinema is one where we can savor all possibilities of life in a seamless flow without contradictions being visible. Our sensory greed for experience wants everything in the paucity of such experience in humdrum life. The differences between the modes of presentation from cinema to flesh only reflect the various degrees and manners to which we need to play of desire in the real and in fantasy. The fleshy excesses of the bar dance pale in comparison to the loud sensory thrills of cinema precisely because the middle class in distancing itself from its pleasures in etiquette requires a very tangible and extreme virtual sphere in which can indulge in sensory greed. The audiences for these spectacles and many in between are all members of a 'public', people of the world sharing the same set of public happenings but reading them through their biographies. The Bar Dance maintains a relationship of content with the silver screen (literally through the 'item number' or the mujra scene) precisely because the denizens of the bar lay claim to sharing the same experiences as the audiences of the cinema hall, not just themselves there, but everyone in the hall.
Today's really popular action cinema is mostly oriented at an audience 'emerging' from traditional Indic middle-classdom into a more piquant cosmopolitan materially opened out space. Narratives are either presented to the urban middle classes or in grotesque excesses of low-grade genre to the C- audiences. In between lies the cinema of exploding realities. It's thus sobering to hear the bar dancer speak within this imagined discourse of chaos. Suddenly we are at degree zero of materiality, where time does not exist, if only in comparison to the addictions of time that cinema is so good at creating in our minds. All kinds of personalities make up the singular person who speaks. She does not belong to one class, one skill, one location of labour, one region or even one sex, much like as we saw for personalities in the hectic activism in plurality of senses that the cinema and bar dance as its 'dark' reflection seek to advocate. But when she speaks personhood holds despite contradictions of intentionalities and desires. While desires run along normal lines in the verbal segment of the sonic track one can discern in the hidden rise and fall of intensities of pure sonic intensities that spectacle goes 'up' towards cinema or 'down' towards the bar. But more importantly, this 'activist' image is one in series with the cinematic image, sitting enigmatically close to the image of Tabu in Chandni Bar, an 'activist' Bollywood film of sorts, and images of the bar.http://pad.ma/JO/00:14:46.120,00:15:35.000
I see the crisis in imagination depicted in the footage I have mixed here resulting out of the destruction of older patronal and labor regimes that produced narratives of a certain kind of diegetic and identitarian stability. But even in this crisis what I like about them is that they document very meticulously a passage through the phase of 'exploding realities' in which there seems to have been a disarticulation of the connections between class, skills, genders, jobs and creative acts. This is what makes the popular Hindi film such an entertaining affair. So a middle class boy could become a lumpen pimp under the supervision of a politician much as girls from 'respectable classes' enter Red Light areas under economic pressures. Of course all these are imagined narratological devices to make sense of a complex world but they do, if only the success with which they catch the public imagination, reveal something about various aspects of the public imagination of the Indic today. But it also points to the rise of the sensory as a mode of perception, the sensory liberated from 'cultural' content', a mode of expression that force the 'old' and the 'classical' to thin out towards the extreme expressive qualities of language which is where the sensory meaning in the linguistic resides. In this one has to remember that the images do document at least in some senses the battle of a young India to come to terms with its own desires that has grown up on the streets/media (and this cutting across class lines) in overlap but also considerable counterpoint to the 'classical'.
The dilemma we face is that the relationship between linguistic articulations at the edge of language bears almost the same relationship with the 'classical' ideological as quantum physics does to mechanical. This is something that working with cinema or with the moving image that short-circuits the linguistic directly towards the sensory should help us develop. In this line of thought the digital should not be seen as a replacement of cinema but as a tool that has developed in a serial line of technological development that makes possible for us to investigate certain relationships between mind and world in the sensory in new registers of discursive investigations that have begun to unfold as we individuate more radically in a violently disjunctive world.
Cinema and adjunct spectacles are play of impulses that seek to redeem desire come what may, whatever might be the framing to redefine such things as the 'public'. The bar is as much a space of public activism towards redeeming desire as top-end spectacular cinema is as is the explicitly 'activist' image, all articulating with our desires for opening out our lives to new experiences. It is this ability to plot images of various kinds around various axes of perception that this archive should make possible for us.Next annotation
He just presumed that we do sex work in the bars. He did not try and understand our work. Does he know that we have dependants on us who survive because of the money we earn from the bars?
I want to educate my younger sister. I don't want her to hear what I have to hear about being a dancer, a whore. I want to educate her so she can lead a different life.
Please, Mr. Patil, please get our work started again. He just closed down our work. He did not think how so many dancers would survive, where they would eat from. If we get into sex work, what will they do?
You tell me, what is better? Dance or sex work? Please, restart our work. We want to take care of our families, provide for them well.