Bar Dancers: Statement of the Jury at the Public Hearing
Duration: 00:15:16; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 18.126; Saturation: 0.267; Lightness: 0.130; Volume: 0.186; Cuts per Minute: 2.816; Words per Minute: 47.684
Summary: Dancing at beer bars started in Maharashtra in the ‘70s. These bars are popularly called Dance Bars. They were recognizable 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 pursued 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 auditorium. 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. This event is the culmination of the evening where the citizens’ jury submitted their statement. The statement is collected in order to use it in the court and also for the campaign.
After hearing the testimonies from several bar dancers the jury retreats to a closed room. As they take long to prepare the statement the bar dancers in the audience and the media get impatient. Jury member Kiran Nagarkar, the eminent novelist comes out to address the audience.
Kiran Nagarkar: You must be upset with us because we are taking a long time. It true that we are taking a long time. What you all have said here today is very important, and our purpose is it to write about it as exactly as possible. So excuse us for some time, we will take 5 to 7 minutes, come back her and read out in front of you what we have written. Do you agree with this plan? Bar dancers- Yes,but you please don't go away. We are here because of you, and we all believe your case. So you please wait.
Nandini Sardesai: We have sat together after having listened to all of you and come out with a statement, which we are going to read out and then circulate. Then further action would be taken on this.
The panel of the 10 jury members come back on stage. The chair person of the panel Nandini Sardesai, sociologist and educationist, delivers the statement.
Bar Dancers: Right to work and livelihood- A statement by the jury. (Hindi translation by Sudhir Mishra)Can you all hear?Audience: YES! Nandini Sardesai: We would like to centre stage the bar bala (bar dancer) as a woman, a mother, a housewife, a worker and a citizen. As any other citizen of the nation, she has a right to pursue a profession of her choice. (Translation in Hindi)The ban will not improve the position of the bar bala, but throw her into the streets. She is not a sex worker in the bars, but would now be susceptible outside the bar. (Translation in Hindi)
Sudhir Mishra, the renowned filmmaker, translates the statement in Hindi for the benefit of the bar dancers. In the statement all the arguments made through the evening are reflected. Use of terms such as Bar Bala (Bar girls), workers, citizens, mothers, professional in the statement is a political choice by itself.
right to work
A bar bala is a professional, legally and independently earning her livelihood to support her dependant family members.(Translation in Hindi) Hunger and illiteracy now stalks the family. The girls were illiterate. Now their siblings and children who are being nurtured for a better life, will suffer the same fate, thus perpetuating a cycle of poverty and illiteracy. (Translation in Hindi)This ban has become a class issue. Discriminating selectively between dance bars on the one hand and clubs, gymkhanas and star hotels on the other. It targets the poor and illiterate bar girls who are being blamed for all the ills of society.
(Translation in Hindi)
The jury statement compiles all the issues that were raised by the advocates of the ban and refuted by the bar dancers.
Morality is culturally constructed. A society of public morality is highly hypocritical as it only talks of sexual morality. There is no researched evidence to show that there is a nexus between dance bars and any undesirable trends in society. The ban will enhance poverty and misery and accentuate health hazards and social degradation. Therefore, there is a need to stop moral policing and victimization of the bar girls. (Translation in Hindi)
Public morality which addresses only sexual morality – is predominant in Indian society which resides permanently in a cusp of feudalism and modernity.
Even if it is not binding on the government, even it is only a mock trial – it meant a great deal to the bar dancers and their morale got uplifted immediately. This was the first public statement in recognition to their rights and direct criticism to the validity of the ban.
(Hindi translation continues)
We therefore urge the government to lift the ban on the dance bars.
Paromita: We all thank the jury especially Nandini Sardesai and Sudhir Mishra for reading and translating. Now this statement would be signed by all jury members. Also, as we said earlier the camera recording this whole programme would now be sealed in front of everyone, so that it can be presented as evidence in the court.
Paromita: The sealed tape would be signed by some jury members so that it can't be opened unless in the court. This statement by the jury would be used as an evidence in the court as well as given in the press and media, so that many more people can know what jury felt about this.
All jury members sign the statement. Eventually even the official body, the Bombay high court gave a similar verdict later on 12th April 2006. But the Govt. still continued the ban on some flimsy pretext and had appealed to the Supreme court. Presently the case is under trail at the Supreme Court.
Varsha Kale- Thank you for really listening to us. We are writing short stories about the girls. Rekha is here, Rekha had to do hard manual works at her native place, she had run away and come her. We are writing such stories. There are many girls who were doing child labour, ran away from home, worked in bars, stood firm on their own. They build houses for their families, educated the siblings, got them married. We will try to get such stories to you. But will we say thanks to the jury? So say… (response from the audience) Thanks for listening to us. And they gave verdict in our favour, that's why? No, listening to us was most important. Thanks to Veena, Flavia and all jury members.
(Mera Chain vain sab ujra / zalim nazar hata le / Kajra ra re… kajra ra re…)
My peace of mind is destroyed / take off your eyes oh cruel lover/ I am getting ruined… Oh my beauty those black eyes of yours…
The dancers deprived from dancing at public sprint to the stage at the first opportunity and start dancing merrily. Their lawyers Flavia and Veena and some of the jury members too join them.The song is from the popular film Bunty aur Babli, made by Shaad Ali in 2005. It was a very popular song in the dance bar circuit not only because of its foot tapping number but it was picturised in a dance bar. Acted by the first family of Bollywood Amitabh Bachchan, Ajitabh Bachchan and Aisariya Rai. The song and the film were a hit of the year and made the concept of dance bars popular in the country. Yet none of the people involved in the film came forward to lend support to the bar dancers against the imposition of ban by the govt.
Ambient sound-Slogan raising- Bar bala, Veer bala (Bar girls, Brave girls).
Hope this confidence, this jubilation get honoured.