Bar Dancers Speak: Testimonies at Public Hearing 4
Duration: 00:07:10; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 19.285; Saturation: 0.234; Lightness: 0.219; Volume: 0.174; Cuts per Minute: 0.977; Words per Minute: 96.698
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 15th August 2005, on the occasion of 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. 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.
Five days after the ban 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.
Dolly Thakore- Children, I just want to tell you that I am a theatre person. In the starting when women fancied to be in theatre, fingers were pointed towards them too. Even in film industry, if you know about the history of cinema, women were hesitant to work there and it was said that women from good families don't work in films. But we were adamant. We might have got some success today, but we had to fight throughout for this. Today, pressure has been put on dance bars. It was said of films, actors etc that women were using their bodies. I want to ask you… did you feel the same… if because of being bar dancers have you faced sexual exploitation? Lot of you spoke about your children. No one of you spoke about husbands. Are theses children because of dance bars? You did not talk about your health. You spoke about condition at home now, about children, being ill, their education, treatment. You have not said if you have been forced in any way because of your work. Would anyone want to respond?
Shot of the stage. A closer shot of the banner - Performers / Workers/ Citizens: Bar Dancers Speak. On both side of the banners are seated the jury panel of the eminent citizens. Dolly Tackore, the actor, speaks to the bar dancers. She tries to create a context by drawing parallel between actresses in the beginning of cinema and the contemporary bar dancers. The contemporary Bombay, including the govt., is crazy about cinema – it governs all aspect of popular cultures. The stigmatized bar dancers are only one of the many offshoots of that popular culture. Dolly tries to bring the discussion under the purview of sexuality based labour.
KC College, Bombay
point of view
Bar Dancer 4: Do we sleep with thousand men? We also have a heart and we have a right to love. We love one person and we have his children. Loud Applause.Thakore- This is exactly what we wanted to hear. R.R Patil has put a big allegation against you that you spoil young men, and has started a movement to shut the dance bars. Yes, you want to say something?Bar dancer 5: You said that there is an allegation that we spoil young men's lives. Are they children that we can teach them what to do with their lives? Applause. They feel the need to go with women. If they do something wrong with us, at that moment, we can't control what is inevitable. You said that in movies…. Why are movies only portraying bar dancers these days? Why do they not talk about themselves? Whatever they do is under covers. They do it on screen, isn't that wrong? Why are we being labeled as wrong and bad? Is it because we do it in hiding. You asked if we use our bodies, we don't show our bodies, we show our art. We don't approach people to come in the bars, or give us money or do something wrong with us. You want to come, that is why you come to the bars.
One young girl walks across the auditorium to the centre and speaks in the mike. This is a long journey from the days when they used come to the public meetings or rally with their faces covered. The media that time made many stories on the hidden faces of the bar dancers. The fear was to be recognized by the family or the neighbours. Today in the face sheer hunger all those concerns seem trivial. Her frankness about her right to love and conceive love children with or without the endorsement from the society was in contrast to the earlier testimonies.Next comes Roopali, the articulate, fiery girl who have already spoken a couple of times. In her usual style she is focused and unapologetic. Bar dancers do not solicit. So the onus of anything 'untowardly' happening cannot be on them. The question is that why should cases of sexual intercourse, if any, between consenting adults be an issue of public morality and govt. censorship. But nobody dares frame that argument frontally. So the discussion continues in half phrases and round about references. The media wakes up to the new turn in the discussion and goes in a frenzy with flush bulbs.
A man may find a woman attractive and want to bed her, but a woman won't agree to this unless she desires it too. You need two to clap. And about the young men, both take the step and not just one person. The way bar dancers are misunderstood, I would like to say that there are no bar dancers who would want to sleep with ten people and destroy her life. If she contracts a problem (disease), everyone including all of you would not want to sit with her fearing the infection. Family members don't take care if people contract diseases. We are earning so that we are not dependant on others. But this really pricks R.R. Patil. But we are always badly represented. People would have to see from our point of view to understand what we are going through today. We have children and family to take care of. We are not labeling the world, the world is labeling us. Excuse me if I said anything wrong.
She articulates the issue as a problem that the society sees in autonomous women and their control over their bodies and desires.
point of view
sexually transmitted disease
Dolly Tackore proves again about the job benefits. None exists, this is a pre-modern or maybe a post-modern profession. The law had been invoked only to retrench these girls. But when the profession was legal and acknowledged no govt. intervened with any legal provision. An industry ran for almost three decades without any service laws. Mid shot of Sanjay Sanghvi, noted labour lawyer – Sudhir Mishra next to him. Sanjay tried to make the dancers articulate the hidden agenda behind the ban. But such issues of real politic are beyond the comprehension of these illiterate girls.
Dolly Thakore- Do you get any medical benefits from your workplace?….Ok. Any benefit for children's education , hospitalization, pension, gratuity? Bar dancers (in unison)- No Sanjay Sanghvi: I want to ask all of you one thing. To make any law, usually government does some study. That society has some problem, why does that problem exist. Here, no such study has been done. No one knows what problem they want to oust. However you see this law, it does not make sense. I feel that government has some other reason behind this. What do you think are these other reasons? Why has government passed this law? Who is going to benefit from this law?